Everything Good is Bad for You?

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter

Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter

Stephen Johnson

This book covers a subject close to my heart, and one that’s caused more than a few arguments within my family – does modern pop culture have any value or should we all be doing military service and baking hedgehogs over a log fire? As someone who’s always been interested in gadgets, sci-fi and computer games, I’ve had plenty of clashes with my dad about “wasting my time on rubbish”.

Well, I’m glad to see that the author comes down firmly on my side of the fence, and wholeheartedly agrees that playing games and watching TV aren’t bad for you, and in fact develop useful skills and knowledge.

He calls the growth of this usefulness “The sleeper curve”, viewed as a progression from the post-war years (when popular entertainment really took off) through to the present day, where a household that lacks a TV is very much the odd one out.

Stephen Johnson’s writing style is conversational and easy to read, the book is laid out into short chapters, and unlike many non-fiction books it doesn’t drag out the conclusions onto page after page. There’s a handy section at the back of the book that takes the place of footnotes, with often a whole page of digressions that were wisely left out of the main body.

All that seems pretty conclusive proof that I should have enjoyed it. But although I didn’t hate it, I didn’t find it hugely valuable either.

So what’s my problem with the book then? Mainly, it’s the pro-pop cultural bias throughout it. Opposing viewpoints are brushed aside with very little discussion, and there’s a lack of intellectual rigour in the arguments that might have slowed down the pace, but would have added much-needed depth. I suppose one of the problems with studying pop culture is the lack of authoritative voices, but the reliance on opinion columns to back up the findings doesn’t really prove anything.

I can’t see this book doing anything other than preaching to the converted. I don’t think my dad would undergo a paradigm shift from reading it. But then he wouldn’t read it anyway, it’s not a military biography…

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