Tuesday, May 17, 2005

the silver ring thing

Y'ever get the feeling that we as a nation, if not a people, are just getting dumber? Videogames are everywhere, turning us into willing entries into The Matrix, an exciting Grand Theft Auto umbilical keeping our attentions at a little silver box instead of the outside world. Our president is lauded for his 'plainspoken' style and inability to pronounce simple everyday words. Lindsay Lohan will soon be a million-selling artist. The most watched shows on TV concern who will be the pop star/million dollar winner/survivor (although no one, it seems is ever really under the threat of death on the program).

Fear not. Steven Johnson is here to ease your mind, if you happen to be using it at the time. In his book Everything Bad Is Good for You, Johnson posits that videogames make you smarter, forcing you to work out complicated problems, citing the popularity of "Sim City" and how lengthy the story of Grand Theft Auto is when printed out (something like 54,000 words). Television, actually, is smarter, with the Sopranos and Deadwood getting our brains accustomed to deciphering labrynthian plots that would've gotten Hill Street Blues thrown off the air. Great news, huh?

The problem I have with this reasoning is the definition of 'smarter.' Yes, we can follow Sopranos if we so choose, but an awful lot of people would also like to follow shows like "Who Wants to Marry My Dad," an example of television programming that was probably on Nero's to-do list for collesseum entertainment. Yes Sim City's a clever, engrossing game, and GTA takes a lot of cognition to figure out how best to beat up a guy in a danceclub. Is your definition of 'smart' someone who has taken in complicated stimulus? Is the brain best served by sitting on your ass and pushing buttons through virtual scenarios, or walking through a park and sitting down to read something? It could probably go either way.

So, yes, there are five or twelve edifying forms of entertainment still out there, and those who watch them are probably getting their mind expanded nicely. However, if you get worn out from watching all that stuff flashing in front of your eyes there's plenty of stupid shit out there too, and I think it's winning the numbers game. It's like pointing at the hundred or so perfect-score SAT students and ignoring the highest illiteracy rate this nation's ever known. But don't worry, they can decipher 54,000 words worth of Grand Theft Auto's pictures so they're still 'smart' in a manner of speaking, right?

Go back to sleep.


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