WordPress Discussion~ “Watching TV Makes You Smarter” by Steven Johnson

In This Reading, Two Prevalent Themes Are:

Complexity of shows increases attention and cognition/ Most TV shows makes us smarter:

CASEY: The Sleeper Curve is how we have to exercise our brains while following a complex TV show. We have to follow the characters, plot, figure out what’s happening in all the twists, and wonder what is going to happen when they leave you hanging… They say watching TV is being lazy laying around, but it really is an exercise for your brain if your watching the right shows.

EMILY: Johnson is not saying that all television makes people smarter, but how one interacts with the show and how the narrative of the television show is structured, requires more cognitive attention. “To keep up with entertainment like 24, you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships.

JORGE:The culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less.” I agree with this statement because it’s pretty obvious that shows have gotten a lot more varied and challenging to follow.

MATTIE:  But in reality “the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less” (278).  Johnson explains how no matter how insignificant the TV show is, or no matter if it sends a bad message, the audience is ultimately getting smarter from watching it.  The viewer needs to be cognitively aware out what is going on in the show and be able to understand any clues or plot twists.

SARA MACALUSO: Even reality shows, that may not be considered intellectually stimulating, can trigger parts of the brain, such as emotional connections, to be used.

TAYLOR: Steve Johnson talks about how even if the TV shows have a bad influence on people, it is educational for most. It somewhat makes you smarter. It makes you remember things that are going on in the show, which makes your brain think and it makes it stronger by having to memorize stuff.

TYLER: But, all kinds of shows can have a positive effect on someone’s way of life. Whether it be their personal mindset, social skills etc… Johnson thinks that people can learn from television and in my personal opinion I agree with him. “Television alters the mental development of young people for the better.”

Shows along with cognition have improved over the decades:

ANDREW: Johnson goes on to compare reality television over the decades. He takes a look at earlier shows like The Love Boat and The Newlywed Game and compares them with newer shows like The Apprentice and Survivor. He explains how the earlier reality TV is more structured, and how the rules are mapped out beforehand, therefore requiring less focus to pay attention. ..By this video game structural method, shows like Survivor and The Apprentice keep the audience more engaged and develop more critical thinking.

ANNA: Johnson shows the comparison between complex shows from years ago to complex shows from today, through multi-threads. Johnson states that, “Audiences happily embrace that complexity because they have been trained by two decades of multi-threaded dramas” (Johnson 284).  Years ago, Hill Street was considered too complex to understand for its viewers. Now, the Sopranos uses the same multi-thread technique and this show is celebrated and enjoyed by viewers today. This shows that intelligence has increased along with the use of complex shows that make us think critically.

FELICIA: Throughout the essay he gives example of shows from the 50′s to one from 1981 and others from the most recent time pointing out their plots and how they affect the viewers. He explains that a show from the 70′s like Starksy and Hutch has a very simple plot structure that doesn’t allow the viewer to further think about the story because there isn’t much to think about, it’s too simple. The story is so simple it’s almost mind numbing. On the other hand a show like Hill Street Blues from the 80′s had so many twists and turns to the plot that you had to interact by using your mind.

RYAN: Johnson presents a lengthy argument proving that television has grown in the past few decades.  While it used to be simple and easy to follow, it now has become much more complicated to understand. Johnson takes specific examples from TV shows to further his points, which seem to work particularly well.  For example, Johnson examines a scene from ER, in which a patient in critical condition is being evaluated.  Most of the dialogue is too complex for an average audience member to understand, however when the audience focuses hard enough, they can understand what is happening.

SHANNON: The writers have also eliminated any extra “fluff”, incorporated social issues and politics. He also believe that “if narrative threads have experienced a population explosion over the past 20 years, flashing arrows have grown correspondingly scarce. (286). Television stories are no longer as simple as they used to be, you can rarely accurately predict the outcome to even the most far-fetched dramas. Johnson genuinely believes that the television that people claim to be so bad for your brain is actually stimulating and brain-nourishing.


1) Do you think that television has had a more positive or more negative influence today than 15 years ago?

2) Can you think of any other shows/series today that are an example of the beneficial shows Johnson mentions?


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