If games had come before books…

In his book Everything Bad Is Good For You, Steven Johnson contends that video games and television programs are making us increasingly intelligent. What if video and computer games had been invented first, he wonders, and books had come later?

| September 2006 issue
“Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the long-standing tradition of game playing—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical soundscapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page.
“Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him- or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new ‘libraries’ that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles, reading silently, oblivious to their peers.
“But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to ‘follow the plot’ instead of learning to lead.”
Excerpted with permission from Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Popular Culture Is Making Us Smarter (Allen Lane, 2005)

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