aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Thursday, April 28, 2005
TV good, cluttered screens not
A friend who knows me to believe that you have to have television in your diet to be culturally and politically well-rounded and informed, wrote to be sure I didn’t miss this NYTimes Magazine piece, Watching TV Makes You Smarter:
For decades, we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ‘’masses’’ want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But...the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of (for example) ‘’24,’’ you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ‘’24,’’ you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion—video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms—turn out to be nutritional after all.
I believe that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and I believe it is largely a force for good: enhancing our cognitive faculties, not dumbing them down.
It’s interesting, and I have yet to read the whole thing, but I note that it need not conflict with this from Kansas State University:
In the past few years, television stations have begun to reformat their screen presentations to include scrolling screens, sports scores, stock prices and current weather news. These visual elements are all designed to give viewers what they want when they want it.
However, Kansas State University professors Lori Bergen and Tom Grimes say that it’s not working. [...]
“We discovered that when you have all of this stuff on the screen, people tend to remember about 10 percent fewer facts than when you don’t have it on the screen,” Grimes said. “Everything you see on the screen—the crawls, the anchor person, sports scores, weather forecast—are conflicting bits of information that don’t hang together semantically. They make it more difficult to attend to what is the central message...The outcome of all of the experiments was that people were splitting their attention into too many parts to understand any of the content.”
The Long Emergency
At three o’clock this morning the power went out on campus. Rumor is that the electricity grid collapsed. Maybe it was only a rumor, we like rumors here. I have no idea what the condition of the electricity grid is. A cursory search didn’t turn anything up, so maybe it’s in great shape. But the lack of electricity raises all kinds of doom and gloom scenarios for me.
I notice lately that there are two kinds of hubris operating among the ‘forward-thinking’ classes in America (which is to say, those who are thinking at all). One I call techno-hubris. It represents the idea that there are really no limits to our powers of innovation and it is obviously the product of our experience in the past century, especially of our victory in World War Two and of the 1969 moon landing. The other kind is organizational hubris, the certainty that we can organize our way around the oil bottleneck, global warming, and population overshoot. What both modes of thinking have in common is that neither recognizes the probability that we are moving into a period of discontinuity, turbulence and hardship. Both modes of thinking assume that we can negotiate a smooth transition from where we are now to a new-and-improved human condition.
There is a remarkable consistency in the delusional thinking at every level of American life these days. When Americans think about the future at all, they seem to think it will be pretty much the way we live now. The buyers of 4000 square foot McHouses think that they will be able to continue heating them with cheap natural gas, not to mention commuting seventy miles a day. The stadium builders assume that major league sports will continue just as it is today, with chartered jet planes conveying zillionaire athletes incessently back and forth across the continent. The highway engineers and the municipal planners are focused like lasers on providing more roads and more parking spaces for evermore cars. The architects are designing more skyscrapers, despite the decrepit condition of the electric grid and the frightful situation with our depleting natural gas supply. We’re so confident, so sure of ourselves.
Raised as I was in the context of a duck and cover Armageddon, I’m vulnerable to this line of thinking. Fortunately, there’s Kevin Drum to bring me back to earth. He agrees with much of what Kunstler says but considers his arguments “crackpot” and “harmful” so calls him a crank and moves on.
Georgia Power has already restored power to part of the campus. Time for me to move on too.