This book covers a subject close to my heart, and one thatâ€™s caused more than a few arguments within my family â€“ does modern pop culture have any value or should we all be doing military service and baking hedgehogs over a log fire? As someone whoâ€™s always been interested in gadgets, sci-fi and computer games, Iâ€™ve had plenty of clashes with my dad about â€œwasting my time on rubbishâ€.
Well, Iâ€™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 arenâ€™t bad for you, and in fact develop useful skills and knowledge.
He calls the growth of this usefulness â€œThe sleeper curveâ€, 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 Johnsonâ€™s writing style is conversational and easy to read, the book is laid out into short chapters, and unlike many non-fiction books it doesnâ€™t drag out the conclusions onto page after page. Thereâ€™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 didnâ€™t hate it, I didnâ€™t find it hugely valuable either.
So whatâ€™s my problem with the book then? Mainly, itâ€™s the pro-pop cultural bias throughout it. Opposing viewpoints are brushed aside with very little discussion, and thereâ€™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 doesnâ€™t really prove anything.
I canâ€™t see this book doing anything other than preaching to the converted. I donâ€™t think my dad would undergo a paradigm shift from reading it. But then he wouldnâ€™t read it anyway, itâ€™s not a military biographyâ€¦