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Can Television Make You Smarter? Essay

1499 words - 6 pages

In Steven Johnson's article "Watching TV Makes You Smarter" he discusses the intellectual merits of television programs. The essence of Johnson's argument is that the complexity of certain current shows can get one to think at a higher cognitive level, and that shows have become more "cognitively demanding"of their viewers over the past few decades. Johnson's argument, that is in favor of watching quality television and the benefits that one can get from it, is reinforced by some good points the author makes. Johnson is effective in his argument and was very convincing. Viewing certain television programs can in fact benefit one's cognitive capacities, especially in children.
Johnson article effectively states that watching programs such as "Hill Street Blues", "24", and "Lost" can make one smarter because they require a lot of thinking on the part of the viewer. Johnson asserts, that when watching these programs "you have to focus to follow the plot, and in focusing you're exercising the parts of your brain that map social networks, that fill in missing information, that connect multiple narrative threads"(228). He believes that shows have come a long way in past years, explaining that shows from the 30-40 years ago were not as complex as are some of the shows on television these days. In his article, he explains that shows from decades past, such as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "All in the Family" essentially did all the thinking for you. In those shows the plot was spelled out for you, and watching them required little brain function, whereas shows today require much more mental participation from the viewer. Similar to reading, when watching complex television shows you can gain "cognitive benefits conventionally ascribed to reading: attention, patience, retention, the parsing of narrative threads." (227)
Amongst different groups of people the debate of the intellectual merits of television can be a hot topic. When discussing the topic online this week with fellow classmates, I noticed that some people indeed have strong feelings on the issue. In his article, Johnson talks about how some people only observe the negative aspects of shows like "24". Some people criticize the show's writers, producers, and even the show's viewers because of the violent themes. Some don't realize how the complex story lines require the viewer to "... pay attention, make inferences, and track shifting social relationships"(229). I have seen how some people on the discussion board may have misinterpreted Johnson's article and overlooked his main points.
From my experiences as a parent, I have learned that most parents of young children always tend to have strong feelings on the topic as well. I find that there are some parents that let their children watch television and praise the positive benefits, while there are some parents that refuse to let their children watch any television, even educational shows. Myself, as a parent, I believe that...

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