Johnson, Steven “Watching TV Makes You Smarter.” They Say I Say 2E (2012): 277-94. Print
Is television actually making individuals dumber? Most of my life parents, influential figures, friends and even teachers have told me that TV is bad for your brain and will in fact make you less intelligent. This idea continues to be the belief of many important figures such as scientists, scholars and writers. In fact many have written articles on the subject advising readers to watch less television for their own good. In spite of what others have told me and what I have read I continued to watch my favorite programs and feel it has not held me back intellectually at all, in fact in more recent years I have come to believe that television is sharpening my intelligence and heightening the level of questions I pose to myself and others.
This is also the conviction of Steven Johnson, an author and journalism teacher at New York University. In an excerpt from Everything Bad Is Good For You he argues that beginning in 1981, with the arrival of Hill Street Blues, television programing began to challenge our brains in a similar way as reading is thought to. He compares an episode of Hill Street Blues with other major dramas from preceding decades writing “The earlier shows follow one or two lead characters, adhere to a single dominant plot and reach a decisive conclusion at the end of the episode. Draw an outline of the narrative threads in almost every Dragnet episode, and it will be a single line: from the initial crime scene, through the investigation, to the eventual cracking of the case…. A Hill Street Blues episode complicates the picture in a number of profound ways. The narrative weaves together a collection of distinct strands—sometimes as many as 10, though at least half of the threads involve only a few quick scenes scattered through the episode. The number of primary characters— and not just bit parts—swells significantly. And the episode has fuzzy borders:...
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