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/24-7PressRelease/ - EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND, April 09, 2006 - Should we feel guilty for letting our kids (or ourselves!) play Grand Theft Auto instead of socialising or reading? Are our brains going soft on a diet of soap operas? Has reality TV turned us into voyeurs? Are we really being dumbed down by popular culture?
No. Steven Johnson, author of the US bestseller Mind Wide Open, takes a deft mixture of economics, narrative theories, technology, neuroscience - and a long hard look at popular culture - to turn all these worries about it on their heads. Over the last thirty years the increasing sophistication of popular culture has paid dividends in our mental agility, connectivity and even IQs.
Take reality TV and video games. Players have to solve problems and make both snap judgements and long-term strategies. They must discover the rules and limits of their artificial worlds by testing them with scientific hypotheses. Video-games are a cerebral test, while reality TV develops 'emotional intelligence'. Tellingly, test scores that track the kind of fluid intelligence required by games have been rising steadily in most industrialized societies for the past thirty years.
Compared to the simple plotlines of Starsky and Hutch, say, Sopranos fans have to work out the plot not only from on-screen events from around eight narrative threads, but also from what hasn't been shown, and from references to events from other episodes. We can watch it again if we need to. The Internet allows us to discuss the key to a video-game, or plot-twist in a TV series, with a huge on-line community.
Everything Bad Is Good For You (http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,0_0141018682,00.html )has transformed the debate on popular culture. For Johnson, understanding the importance of popular culture means recognising that our real-life ability to analyse and problem-solve has improved. It means parents need not be terrified that their children's brains are atrophying. And it means that our brains are working rather hard. Pass the remote.
Steven Johnson is the author of the US bestseller, Mind Wide Open and Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software. He has written for the New Yorker, The Guardian and The Nation and teaches on New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program.
Penelope Vogler, 020 7010 3253
See Steven Johnson's blog on http://www.stevenberlinjohnson.com
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2001 saw Penguin books (http://www.penguin.co.uk ) moving to its current home at 80 Strand in Central London. Today the company has offices in fifteen countries - from Penguin US (formed in 1939) to Penguin Ireland (opened in 2003) - and keeps more than 5,000 different titles in print at any time. In the twenty-first century the Penguin Group can cater for every stage of a reader's lifetime, with books from Dorling Kindersley, Frederick Warne, Ladybird, Penguin, Puffin and Rough Guides, making Penguin the home of reading.
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