Excerpt: "Everything Bad Is Good for You"

Social critic Steven Johnson suggests in his book, "Everything Bad is Good for You," that video games -- violent or not -- are making children smarter. Studies show video games make people more perceptive, training their brains to analyze things faster.

You can read an excerpt from "Everything Bad Is Good for You" below.

It is a truth nearly universally acknowledged that pop culture caters to our base instincts; mass society dumbs down and simplifies; it races to the bottom. The rare flowerings of "quality programming" only serve to remind us of the overall downward slide. But no mater how many times this refrain is belted out, it doesn't get any more accurate. As we've seen, precisely the opposite seems to be happening: the secular trend is toward greater cognitive demands, more depth, more participation. If you accept that premise, you're forced then to answer the question: Why?

For decades, the race to the bottom served as kind of a Third Law of Thermodynamics for mass society: all other things being equal, pop culture will decline into simpler forms. But if entropy turns out not to govern the world of mass society - if our entertainment is getting smarter after all - we need a new model to explain the trend. That model is a complex, layered one. The forces driving the Sleeper Curve straddle three different realms of experience: the economic, the technological, and the neurological. Part of the Sleeper Curve reflects changes in the market forces that shape popular entertainment; part emanates from long-term technological trends; and part stems from deep-seated appetites in the human brain.

The Sleeper Curve is partly powered by the force of repetition. Over the past 20 years, a fundamental shift has transformed the economics of popular entertainment: original runs are now less lucrative than repeats. In the old days of television and Hollywood, the payday came from your initial airing on network or your first run at the box office. The aftermarkets for content were marginal at best. But the mass adoption of the VCR, and cable television's hunger for syndicated programming, has turned that equation on its head. In 2003, for the first time, Hollywood made more money from DVD sales that it did from box-office receipts. Television shows repurposed as DVDs generated more than a billion dollars in sales during the same period. And the financial rewards of syndication are astronomical: shows like The Simpsons and The West Wing did well for their creators in their initial airings on network television, but the real bonanza came from their afterlife as reruns.

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