Don’t kill your television

Salon reviews Steven Johnson's new book "Everything Bad Is Good For You," which argues that TV and video games are actually making us smarter.

"By almost all standards we use to measure reading's cognitive benefits — attention, memory, following threads, and so on — the non-literary popular culture has been steadily growing more challenging over the past thirty years," Johnson says. Moreover, non-literary media like video games, TV and the movies are also "honing different mental skills that are just as important as the ones exercised by reading books."

Johnson adds that he's not offering a mere hypothesis for how video games and TV shows may affect our brains — there's proof, he says, that society is getting smarter due to the media it consumes. In most developed countries, including the United States, IQs have been rising over the past half-century, a statistic that of course stands in stark contrast to the caricature of modern American idiocy. Johnson attributes intelligence gains to the increasing sophistication of our media, and writes that, in particular, mass media is helping us — especially children — learn how to deal with complex technical systems. Kids today, he points out, often master electronic devices in ways that their parents can't comprehend. They do this because their brains have been trained to understand complexity through video games and through TV; mass media, he says, prepares children for the increased difficulty that tomorrow's world will surely offer, and it does so in a way that reading a book simply cannot do.