Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Matter

Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Matter — By Steven Johnson

This is an interesting and provocative book about popular culture, especially video games and television programs, and how they’ve become increasingly complex and challenging intellectually. The presentation is definitely one-sided, and I don’t agree with everything he says, but I found this book both entertaining and enlightening.

As a librarian, I was especially interested in the parts about video games. There’s a lot here about the false and pointless comparisons between the benefits of reading books and playing video games, and the dismissive and/or patronizing attitude that so many people have about games, usually based on the most superficial of knowledge about the way people actually experience the games. He’s especially good, I believe, at showing how pointless it is to focus on the specific content of the games (dragons, princesses, drive-by shootings or whatever) and to judge them by standards developed for, and more appropriate to, literary works.

He reminds us of McLuhan’s observation that new media is always rejected as “pseudo” and inferior by those raised on the old media, who always tend to judge the new by comparison to the old, and not on its own terms. His focus, as the title implies, is on the intellectual challenge of playing today’s complex and difficult games, and the benefits of that kind of cognitive workout.

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