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Do We Actually Become Smarter Than People Who Lived in the 70s and 80s?

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Before looking for the answer, we need to define what human intelligence is. However, it is not an easy job. Someone might say that the traditional IQ test can test human intelligence. As Steven Johnson argues, the traditional IQ test reflects only a part of human intelligence because it ignores other forms of intelligence, for example emotional intelligence (Johnson 141). Human intelligence includes many kinds of aspects reflecting human abilities such as, but not limited to, abstract thought, understanding and problem solving. Hence, back to the previous question, we can’t get the answer just by using one test or comparing only one aspect.

In “Everything Bad is Good for You,” Steven Johnson claims that popular culture has grown more challenging and complicated. This trend causes a significant change in human intelligence. He uses video games, popular TV, films and Internet to prove the connection between increasing complexities in popular culture and changes in human intelligence. After reading his book and doing external researches, I have found out that popular culture does have significant impacts on those who live closely with it in term of changes in intelligence as Johnson states.

When it comes to reading, many people understand that the cognitive benefits of reading involve concentration, attention, the ability to make sense of words and others (Johnson 23). In many cases, playing video games is comprehended as an evil that leads to the increase of aggressive behaviors and poor performance in school. With the development of video games, many researches begin to notice a lot of benefits of playing video games and persuade educators to take advantage of them. Playing video games, as well as reading, provides people with certain benefits. It can also improve players’ skills of problem-solving that can hardly be improved by a mere reading. Things are already set up ahead of time in books, so what readers need to do is to follow. On the contrary, video games create huge autonomy for players to decide what to do.

The rise of walk-through represents that video games have become more challenging. Nowadays, such video games as Zelda or SimCity require players much cognitive work of probing and telescoping. Probing, similar to the scientific method, is a process that includes four elements: probe, hypothesize, re-probe, and rethink (Johnson 45). For example, a player wants to stimulate industrial development in SimCity. One needs to probe what factors affect the industrial development first, and then hypothesize the effects of changing these factors. After actually making changes, the player needs to compare the hypothesized effect with the real effect to see if further reconsideration is necessary. Through the probing process, players are forced to solve problems in the way that scientists usually do.

Besides probing, players also get involved in the other cognitive work called telescoping. Because ultimate goals in video games often include smaller problems that have to be finished in advance, players require to understand clearly what they should do and to prioritize tasks in order to reach a final goal. A brief example from Johnson is:

  1. Your goal is to capture all of your opponent’s pieces.
    a. To do this, you must move one piece each turn capturing pieces where possible.

              i. You may also revive your own captured pieces by reaching the other side of the board.

While playing video games, people are collaterally improving their problem-solving skills through probing and telescoping.

In fact, video games are very good learning tools. With a complex layout combing challenges, rewards, competition and mystery, video games are very attractive to many people because they can offer great incentive for them to play. Another advantage of using video games as a learning tool is that players can learn through divergent ways. It makes learning more fun and effective. Unlike reading, playing video games provides more ways to connect with. Books limit people to following a fixed linear path, but video games allow people to get involved in different learning experiences which can suit people who prefer different learning styles. Therefore, more and more people could benefit from them.

Compared with video games, popular TV also increases the cognitive demand from its audiences. It is exercising the audiences to follow multiple threading and to read emotions of other people. In the last 30 years, threading in TV has become much more complicated. As Johnson claims, the number of threads significantly increases in popular TV. Also, pieces of each thread tend to be separated and scattered into different time periods. These two characteristics of threading make TV more mentally challenging and complicated. Audiences require the capability to follow the multiple threading, which is training their brains to keep track things simultaneously.

On the other hand, people’s emotional intelligence is activated and challenged while people watch popular TV shows and films. Due to technology advances, characters’ emotions are more likely to be widely and lively reflected in popular TV shows and films. For instance, reality programming, like the Apprentice or Survivor, reveal genuine emotions of participants when they are facing difficulties. It provides audiences training of reading emotions of others. In addition, popular animation not only entertains kids, but also gives the opportunities to feel and understand lively emotions of characters created by advanced technology. For example, when kids watch the scene Woody is taken away from Andy in Toy Story 1, they can feel the pain of separation by seeing Woody or Andyfacial expression. Watching animations, kids get involved in many scenes related to emotions and can feel the characters’ emotions. This process provides them the opportunity to practice emotions of other people.

As described before, popular animations are an example showing the connection between the sleeper curve and changes in intelligence. The animations which existed decades ago such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Alice in Wonderland,” basically rely on a fixed fair-tale and deliver just little content to audiences. After watching these animations, people can easily summarize what has happened. However, popular animation, such as The Simpsons, has contained a very wide range of intertexts. Inside joke is considered to be an essential element. It makes sense only if viewers fill in the proper supplementary information (Johnson 85). Viewers can get different things every time. Also, a lot of researches in different fields start using The Simpsons to explain and highlight matters. As an example may be the books which explain psychology (Brown & Logan n.p.), philosophy (Irwin, Conrad, & Skolbe n.p.), science (Keslowitz n.p.) and cultural studies theories (Alberti n.p.) based on how The Simpsons act in the series.

Since December 17, 1989, The Simpsons has broadcasted 528 episodes. There are millions of audiences watching this animation per year. The viewing audiences vary with three distinct viewing audiences: children aged 6-10; young adults aged 18-22, and middle-aged adults (35-45) (Facenda n.p.). Not only kids like watching The Simpsons, but grownup also enjoy this animation. The Simpsons has successfully shows what different groups of people are interested in, and audiences are able to interact with this animation in different ways.

In addition, the emergence of Internet accelerates the rate of innovation. In the Intenet age, innovations become small and easily happen. “We had thirty years to adapt to the new storytelling possibilities of cinema; then another twenty years for radio; then twenty years of present-tense television” (Johnson 175). Though now, people only take months or a few years to adapt to new innovations, such as E-mail, online charts and weblog. Living in a fast developing society, people face increasingly continuous innovations. They are exercised to keep up with changes, especially younger generation. Under this trend, people become more capable of learning and adapting to new things within a short time.

Video games, popular TV, films and the Internet are just a tiny part of popular culture. There are also many other parts which affect our daily life. People who like popular culture can benefit from it, but popular culture can still be harmful. The example is a fast food culture. We should not label popular culture with good or bad because it is a very complicated collection with nutrition and poison. Thinking critically is what we should do when we deal with issues of popular culture. Hence, more research is needed for us to dig out popular culture deeply. The question whether popular culture is good or bad for us is as difficult to answer as the question whether we are smarter than those who lived in the 70s and 80s.

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