NYT Magazine article: ‘Watching TV Makes You Smarter’

Steven Berlin JohnsonThat's the headline over Steven Berlin Johnson's article in the New York Time Magazine today. He also has an accompanying blog item, Everything Bad Goes Public. I say young people get enough television. Suppose they read more e-books to develop sustained thought--mightn't that even help them Google more smartly? Would that I had time for a full reply rather than just a blog item! Perhaps this will help do instead. More than a few imagination-short people haven't even reached the Google stage. It isn't as if the average TV watcher is Einsteinian.

Acknowledged: Yes, multiple intelligences exist. But, whatever your variety, wouldn’t it help to be smarter than Tom DeLay about the use of resources on the Net? Knowledge from books can provide the context in which to dig up the right information from Google.

The better side of the Johnson article: He notes the rise of multiple-threaded plots on TV. And he makes a great point that certain shows engage viewers mentally more than others, especially programs with both long- and short-term ambiguities. Good stuff!

Still…: Is TV a substitute for reading books and other texts, especially e-books, where it’s so easy to use search words to return to earlier passages for reflection? And what about the salient fact that one generally–not always–can absorb information faster through text than through other means? Or that TV-fixated kids may have trouble learning in the first place? What’s more, task-specific knowledge is irreplacable, and TV steals time away from that. There is a place for audio and video and, yes, mass TV. But watching The Sopranos isn’t exactly going to smarten you up as much for your work as a programmer, say, or a stock analyst. It will help. But all in all, you’ll still be better off with a programming guide or a mastery of the use of a Bloomberg machine.

Multimedia e-books as preparation for tasks: Classics in e-form can teach you the complexities of life and let you reflect on them. That’s Knowledge in the old-fashioned sense. But e-books have another potential role, too–as very efficient ways to learn specific tasks. With the right hyperlink structure, they can help you absorb vast amounts of information in a short time. And we’re not just talking text here. Overviews, for example, could link to multimedia segments on tasks or elements of tasks.

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