Bookmarks Issue: 

How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

A-EverythingBadGoodForYouApparently, your mother is wrong. By spending all that time parked in front of a television, thumbing the analog stick of your game controller, or surfing the web, you won’t become brain-dead. In fact, quite the opposite. According to Johnson, people are actually strengthening their brains during these recreational exercises. That’s the theory supporting the author’s book of neuroscience research and multimedia wisdom. By embracing the paradigm of pop culture, the 36-year-old author, a self-confessed TV junkie, attempts to prove that the media is cognitively helping us and not rotting our brains like many parents believe.
Riverhead. 256 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 1573223077

Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The beauty of Johnson’s latest work—beyond its engaging, accessible prose—is that anyone with even a glancing familiarity with pop culture will come to the book ready to challenge his premise. Everything Bad Is Good for You anticipates and refutes nearly every likely claim, building a convincing case that media have become more complex and thus make our minds work harder." Chris Sheridan

New Yorker 3 of 5 Stars
"In the wonderfully entertaining Everything Bad Is Good for You, Steven Johnson proposes that what is making us smarter is precisely what we thought was making us dumber: popular culture. There is a pleasing eclecticism to his thinking." Malcolm Gladwell

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Although example rigging could skew his argument wrongly, Johnson builds a convincing case that popular games and shows have generally grown more cognitively taxing. Everything Bad Is Good for You is a lucid tour of the pop-culture landscape, and Johnson makes a sometimes rambling but altogether lively guide." Joseph Rosenbloom

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"He displays an easy familiarity with economics, neuroscience, sociology and the finer points of ‘Starsky and Hutch.’ Like his theoretical video-game addicts, you’ll probably learn something from reading his book, but you’ll feel as if you’re just having fun." Katy Read

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"It’s a fun and revelatory thrust, but Johnson wrecks his momentum by swinging too far in the other direction. He seems blind to anything but the rosiest consequences of parking our butts in dark rooms. … Johnson does come up with the kind of observations interesting enough to regale your friends with, though none of them is central to his point." Bob Ivry

Critical Summary

Though the research behind Johnson’s theories proves interesting, most critics found a few quirks in the construction of its delivery. Driven by a fervent desire to prove that today’s media are more beneficial to the human mind than they are damaging, Johnson, author of several books on science and technology (see Mind Wide Open, 4 of 5 Stars May/June 2004), fails to adequately define his agenda other than showcasing his research. Though his prose is captivating and his enthusiasm infectious, Johnson does not muster enough evidence to prove that today’s games and television shows help one’s mind; and yet, in his defense, there doesn’t seem to be enough evidence proving him wrong. Either way, Everything Bad Is Good for You is a creative, flawed look at a society where the term "reality" refers to television rather than, um, reality.