Watching TV Makes You Smarter

The New York Times says that ‘watching TV makes you smarter’: They make sense too:

bq. 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 as that ”24” episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ”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 find it hard to watch older sitcoms like the 70’s shows or Fraisier – they’re just to simplistic. There’s nothing to keep track of as everything is spoon fed to the viewer. This is what this article is about – that what everyone has assumed since time immemorial may be wrong: that the most debased forms of mass diversion — video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms — turn out to be nutritional after all – the idiot box has hit rock bottom and is now turning upwards in a _Sleeper Curve._

bq. 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. And yet you almost never hear this story in popular accounts of today’s media. Instead, you hear dire tales of addiction, violence, mindless escapism. It’s assumed that shows that promote smoking or gratuitous violence are bad for us, while those that thunder against teen pregnancy or intolerance have a positive role in society. Judged by that morality-play standard, the story of popular culture over the past 50 years — if not 500 — is a story of decline: the morals of the stories have grown darker and more ambiguous, and the antiheroes have multiplied.

I don’t know about TV, but video games are becoming increasingly complex.

bq.. Consider the cognitive demands that televised narratives place on their viewers. With many shows that we associate with ”quality” entertainment — ”The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” ”Murphy Brown,” ”Frasier” — the intelligence arrives fully formed in the words and actions of the characters on-screen. They say witty things to one another and avoid lapsing into tired sitcom cliches, and we smile along in our living rooms, enjoying the company of these smart people. But assuming we’re bright enough to understand the sentences they’re saying, there’s no intellectual labor involved in enjoying the show as a viewer. You no more challenge your mind by watching these intelligent shows than you challenge your body watching ”Monday Night Football.” The intellectual work is happening on-screen, not off.

But another kind of televised intelligence is on the rise. Think of the cognitive benefits conventionally ascribed to reading: attention, patience, retention, the parsing of narrative threads. Over the last half-century, programming on TV has increased the demands it places on precisely these mental faculties. This growing complexity involves three primary elements: multiple threading, flashing arrows and social networks.

…The modern viewer who watches a show like ”Dallas” today will be bored by the content — not just because the show is less salacious than today’s soap operas (which it is by a small margin) but also because the show contains far less information in each scene, despite the fact that its soap-opera structure made it one of the most complicated narratives on television in its prime. With ”Dallas,” the modern viewer doesn’t have to think to make sense of what’s going on, and not having to think is boring. Many recent hit shows — ”24,” ”Survivor,” ”The Sopranos,” ”Alias,” ”Lost,” ”The Simpsons,” ”E.R.” — take the opposite approach, layering each scene with a thick network of affiliations. 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.

…The economics of television syndication and DVD sales mean that there’s a tremendous financial pressure to make programs that can be watched multiple times, revealing new nuances and shadings on the third viewing. Meanwhile, the Web has created a forum for annotation and commentary that allows more complicated shows to prosper, thanks to the fan sites where each episode of shows like ”Lost” or ”Alias” is dissected with an intensity usually reserved for Talmud scholars. Finally, interactive games have trained a new generation of media consumers to probe complex environments and to think on their feet, and that gamer audience has now come to expect the same challenges from their television shows. In the end, the Sleeper Curve tells us something about the human mind. It may be drawn toward the sensational where content is concerned — sex does sell, after all. But the mind also likes to be challenged; there’s real pleasure to be found in solving puzzles, detecting patterns or unpacking a complex narrative system.

p. ‘Read the complete article at the NYTimes’:

1 thought on “Watching TV Makes You Smarter”

  1. I still am a fan of the old classic like Seinfield.

    I might agree watchning tv may make us smarter as it exposes us to a greater aspect of the world in comfort of my recliner but it takes toll on the fact that we have moved away from intellectual development like reading a good book in our free time, What free time 😉 the free time I have is in front of the TV.

Leave a Reply