Saturday, April 23, 2005

Must "C" TV: Cognitively Demanding Television

It has always struck me as odd that people criticize television watching as mindless entertainment. Hardly mindless. Attentional and memory demands, abstraction, requirements imposed by presentation of diverse vantage points, fast pacing, and so on, all point to fairly active neurocognition. Indeed, in some of my rehabilitation patients, I often assign choosing and watching a favorite TV show as an adjunctive and supportive "at home" task.

Steven Johnson provides an interesting perspective in tomorrow's New York Times Sunday Magazine, in an essay adapted from his new book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.
Watching TV Makes You Smarter
The New York Times
Published: April 24, 2005


For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion -- video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms -- turn out to be nutritional after all.

I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down.

[ ... Read the full article ... ] (free registration required)
Addendum - Information about the book by its author can be found at his blog:
click here

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