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Everything Bad is Good for You: How Popular Culture is Making Us Smarter [Englisch] [Taschenbuch]

Steven Johnson
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In his fourth book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, iconoclastic science writer Steven Johnson (who used himself as a test subject for the latest neurological technology in his last book, Mind Wide Open) takes on one of the most widely held preconceptions of the postmodern world--the belief that video games, television shows, and other forms of popular entertainment are detrimental to Americans' cognitive and moral development. Everything Good builds a case to the contrary that is engaging, thorough, and ultimately convincing.

The heart of Johnson's argument is something called the Sleeper Curve--a universe of popular entertainment that trends, intellectually speaking, ever upward, so that today's pop-culture consumer has to do more "cognitive work"--making snap decisions and coming up with long-term strategies in role-playing video games, for example, or mastering new virtual environments on the Internet-- than ever before. Johnson makes a compelling case that even today's least nutritional TV junk food–the Joe Millionaires and Survivors so commonly derided as evidence of America's cultural decline--is more complex and stimulating, in terms of plot complexity and the amount of external information viewers need to understand them, than the Love Boats and I Love Lucys that preceded it. When it comes to television, even (perhaps especially) crappy television, Johnson argues, "the content is less interesting than the cognitive work the show elicits from your mind."
Johnson's work has been controversial, as befits a writer willing to challenge wisdom so conventional it has ossified into accepted truth. But even the most skeptical readers should be captivated by the intriguing questions Johnson raises, whether or not they choose to accept his answers. --Erica C. Barnett -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.


Stimulating, iconoclastic, and strikingly original. (The Atlantic Monthly) [Johnson] makes the reader feel smart by providing new tools with which to understand technology. (Wired) Most thoughtful, literate...drawing analogies from a prodigious range of fields...provocative. (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times) -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.


Tune in, turn on and get smarter. "The Simpsons", "Desperate Housewives", "The Apprentice", "The Sopranos", "Grand Theft Auto": We're constantly being told that popular culture is just mindless entertainment. But, as Steven Johnson shows, it's actually making us more intelligent. Here he puts forward a radical alternative to the endless complaints about reality TV, throwaway movies and violent video games. He shows that mass culture is actually more sophisticated and challenging than ever before. When we focus on what our minds have to do to process its complex, multilayered messages, it becomes clear that it's not dumbing us down but smartening us up.

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Steven Johnson is the author of the US bestseller Mind Wide Open. His previous book, Emergence: The Connected Lives Of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, was named as one of the best books of 2001 by Esquire, The Village Voice, Amazon.com, and Discover Magazine. It was named as a finalist for the Helen Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism. He is also the author of the 1997 book, Interface Culture. Johnson's writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Harper's, and the Guardian, as well as on the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He writes the monthly 'Emerging Technology' column for Discover magazine, and is a Contributing Editor to Wired. The co-founder of the award-winning web sites FEED and Plastic.com, Johnson teaches at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and has degrees in Semiotics and English Literature from Brown and Columbia Universities. Steven Johnson also hosts a web log at www.stevenberlinjohnson.com.

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The Sleeper Curve

Every childhood has its talismans, the sacred objects that look innocuous enough to the outside world, but that trigger an onslaught of vivid memories when the grown child confronts them. For me, it's a sheaf of xeroxed numbers that my father brought home from his law firm when I was nine. These pages didn't seem, at first glance, like the sort of thing that would send a grade-schooler into rapture. From a distance you might have guessed that they were payroll reports, until you got close enough to notice that the names were familiar ones, even famous: Catfish Hunter, Pete Rose, Vida Blue. Baseball names, stranded in a sea of random numbers.

Those pages my dad brought home were part of a game, though it was a game unlike any I had ever played. It was a baseball simulation called APBA, short for American Professional Baseball Association. APBA was a game of dice and data. A company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had analyzed the preceding season's statistics and created a collection of cards, one for each player who had played more than a dozen games that year. The cards contained a cryptic grid of digits that captured numerically each player's aptitudes on the baseball diamond: the sluggers and the strikeout prone, the control artists and the speed demons. In the simplest sense, APBA was a way of playing baseball with cards, or at least pretending to be a baseball manager: you'd pick out a lineup, decide on your starting pitchers, choose when to bunt and when to steal.

APBA sounds entertaining enough at that level of generality-what kid wouldn't want to manage a sports team?-but actually playing the game was a more complicated affair. On the simplest level, the game followed this basic sequence: you picked your players, decided on a strategy, rolled a few dice, and then consulted a "lookup chart" to figure out what happened-a strikeout, or a home run, a grounder to third.

But it was never quite that simple with APBA. You could play against a human opponent, or manage both teams yourself, and the decisions made for the opposing team transformed the variables in subtle but crucial ways. At the beginning of each game-and anytime you made a substitution-you had to add up all the fielding ratings for each player in your lineup. Certain performance results would change if your team was unusually adept with the glove, while teams that were less talented defensively would generate more errors. There were completely different charts depending on the number of runners on base: if you had a man on third, you consulted the "Runner on Third" chart. Certain performance numbers came with different results, depending on the quality of the pitcher: if you were facing a "grade A" pitcher, according to the data on his card, you'd get a strikeout, while a "grade C" pitcher would generate a single to right field. And that was just scratching the surface of the game's complexity. Here's the full entry for "Pitching" on the main "Bases Empty" chart:

The hitting numbers under which lines appear may be altered according to the grade of the pitcher against whom the team is batting. Always observe the grade of the pitcher and look for possible changes of those numbers which are underlined. "No Change" always refers back to the D, or left, column and always means a base hit. Against Grade D pitchers there is never any change-the left hand column only is used. When a pitcher is withdrawn from the game make a note of the grade of the pitcher who relieves him. If his grade is different, a different column must be referred to when the underlined numbers come up. Certain players may have the numbers 7, 8, and/or 11 in the second columns of their cards. When any of these numbers is found in the second column of a player card, it is not subject to normal grade changes. Always use the left (Grade D) column in these cases, no matter what the pitcher's grade is. Occasionally, pitchers may have A & C or A & B ratings. Always consider these pitchers as Grade A pitchers unless the A column happens to be a base hit. Then use the C or B column, as the case may be, for the final play result.

Got that? They might as well be the tax form instructions you'd happily pay an accountant to decipher. Reading these words now, I have to slow myself down just to follow the syntax, but my ten-year-old self had so thoroughly internalized this arcana that I played hundreds of APBA games without having to consult the fine print. An 11 in the second column on the batter's card? Obviously, obviously that means ignore the normal grade changes for the pitcher. It'd be crazy not to!

The creators of APBA devised such an elaborate system for understandable reasons: they were pushing the limits of the dice-and-cards genre to accommodate the statistical complexity of baseball. This mathematical intricacy was not limited to baseball simulations, of course. Comparable games existed for most popular sports: basketball sims that let you call a zone defense or toss a last-minute three-point Hail Mary before the clock ran out; boxing games that let you replay Ali/Foreman without the rope-a-dope strategy. British football fans played games like Soccerboss and Wembley that let you manage entire franchises, trading players and maintaining the financial health of the virtual organization. A host of dice-based military simulations re-created historical battles or entire world wars with painstaking fidelity.

Perhaps most famously, players of Dungeons & Dragons and its many imitators built elaborate fantasy narratives-all by rolling twenty-sided dice and consulting bewildering charts that accounted for a staggering number of variables. The three primary manuals for playing the game were more than five hundred pages long, with hundreds of lookup charts that players consulted as though they were reading from scripture. (By comparison, consulting the APBA charts was like reading the back of a cereal box.) Here's the Player's Handbook describing the process by which a sample character is created:

Monte wants to create a new character. He rolls four six-sided dice (4d6) and gets 5, 4, 4, and 1. Ignoring the lowest die, he records the result on scratch paper, 13. He does this five more times and gets these six scores: 13, 10, 15, 12, 8, and 14. Monte decides to play a strong, tough Dwarven fighter. Now he assigns his rolls to abilities. Strength gets the highest score, 15. His character has a +2 Strength bonus that will serve him well in combat. Constitution gets the next highest score, 14. The Dwarf's +2 Constitution racial ability adjustment [see Table 2-1: Racial Ability Adjustments, pg. 12] improves his Constitution score to 16, for a +3 bonus. . . . Monte has two bonus-range scores left (13 and 12) plus an average score (10). Dexterity gets the 13 (+1 bonus).

And that's merely defining the basic faculties for a character. Once you released your Dwarven fighter into the world, the calculations involved in determining the effects of his actions-attacking a specific creature with a specific weapon under specific circumstances with a specific squad of comrades fighting alongside you-would leave most kids weeping if you put the same charts on a math quiz.

Which gets to the ultimate question of why a ten-year-old found any of this fun. For me, the embarrassing truth of the matter is that I did ultimately grow frustrated with my baseball simulation, but not for the reasons you might expect. It wasn't that arcane language wore me down, or that I grew tired of switching columns on the Bases Empty chart, or that I decided that six hours was too long to spend alone in my room on a Saturday afternoon in July.

No, I moved on from APBA because it wasn't realistic enough.

My list of complaints grew as my experience with APBA deepened. Playing hundreds of simulated games revealed the... -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

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