Are We All Getting Smarter? Can We Credit Pop Culture?
from the so-they-say dept
In what appears to be yet another excerpt from Steven Johnson’s recently released book, Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter, Johnson defends the idea that all of this pop culture is making us smarter by pointing to evidence that people seem to keep getting smarter, without any other real explanation for why it could be happening. It’s hardly scientific (and, it anything, reading the piece, it clearly is leading people to a certain conclusion, which isn’t necessarily the only explanation). Still, it is an interesting and fun read. Another possible explanation isn’t that it’s pop culture that’s making us all smarter, but the simple combination of two things: (1) Every generation has advanced, and we build our overall knowledge based on what has been learned in the past. So, the first electric engine was a big deal, but now, any kid can learn how to build an electric engine with simple instructions. So, in some sense, we’re able, as a society, to bank all of the advancements of history (for more on this, see Andy Kessler’s new book, as well). (2) The growth of technology has allowed people to speed up learning in certain areas. Johnson sort of notes this, by pointing out that learning to program your VCR is a knowledge task that helps understand other things, but it goes much further than that. We don’t have to spend all of our time doing basic math, because we have calculators and computers — so we can “outsource” some of the effort from our brains to focus on more complex problems. So, while it’s a nice idea that pop culture is making us smarter, it seems like there could be plenty of other explanations as well.