Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson (2006)
Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You starts with a direct and deceptively simple hypothesis: pop culture, despite its negative reputation, is actually making us smarter. Johnson spends the rest of the book supporting his argument with specific examples. He examines how video games teach critical thinking and observation skills that extend into real-life problem solving. He explains how television programming has gotten more complex and requires much more cognitive engagement from its viewers than the shows of yesteryear. He suggests that internet interfaces require complex mental abilities in navigation and making connections. Finally, Johnson theorizes that all of these increased demands on our cognitive abilities are responsible for an overall increase in IQ and uses that to look to the future.
Why This Text Works
This book has the benefit of beginning with familiarity before moving into more challenging arguments. Students respond well with discussions of their own beliefs about pop culture’s impact on people’s brains, often turning to both anecdotal evidence repeated to them as children and their own experiences as consumers of pop culture. For many students, this book provides an argument that runs counter to their established beliefs, and it therefore becomes a key exercise in critical thinking engagement. For other students, this book supports their established beliefs and demonstrates how an argument that runs counter to common knowledge can be presented and supported. This text provides ample opportunity to discuss media literacy, the ethics of media consumption, cognitive function, and rhetorical appeals–all based on a topic that students find familiar and accessible.
“Introduction to Media Literacy” by the Media Literacy Project
This resource provides a through definition of media literacy and introduces students to beginning, intermediate, and advanced media literacy concepts. It serves as a great introductory tool to discussing pop culture through a more interconnected and meaningful lens.
“This is What Candy Crush Saga Does to Your Brain” by Dana Smith
This article provides a contemporary, recognizable (and, for many students, personally relevant) example of the type of cognitive processes outlined in the section on video games in Everything Bad is Good for You.
“8 Ways Tech has Completely Rewired Our Brains” by Rebecca Hiscott
This list-style article explores the concept of neuroplasticity with specific examples of how technology has changed the way human minds work–some good and some bad.
This video provides a optimistic, playful, and important perspective on pop culture that connects it to humanity’s shared moments of interaction. It offers a jumping off place to discuss why studying pop culture is worthwhile.
In this video, Marc Prensky defines his term “digital native” and explains why he thinks the concept is useful to education.
This fast-paced and fun PBS Digital video challenges the notion that “digital natives” exist and instead talks about digital literacy as a continuum of variable skills. Used in conjunction with the above video from Marc Prensky, these videos can provide the opening for a debate on generational divides and the role of technology in our lives.