“Watching TV Makes You Smarter” by: Steven Johnson

In Johnson’s essay, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter” his argument is not the title, but that watching the proper kind of TV can make you slightly smarter. Johnson does not mean that watching reality TV shows like “Jersey Shore”, “Real World,” or “the Bachelor” because this sort of fluff does not improve your cognitive skills, their plot-lines are not complex  nor do they challenge you. TV shows like “Lost,” “Alias,” “The West Wing,” and “The Sopranos” are shows Johnson encourages viewers to watch not for their content, but because there are multiple plots in one episode to follow. Watchers are constantly relying on their knowledge from previous episodes to understand the plot lines of the current episode. Complexity is essential in modern television shows, for intelligent viewers, otherwise they loose interest.   “Texture is all the arcane verbiage provided to convince the viewer that they’re watching Actual Doctors at Work; substance is the material planted amid the background texture that the viewer needs to make sense of the plot” (286).  The smarter the viewer, or the smarter the show being watched, the more easily substance can be discerned between the texture by the viewer.  “Conventionally, narratives demarcate the line between texture and substance by inserting that flag or translate the important data” (287).  However, the smarter the viewer, the less flags need to be inserted, because they can differentiate between the texture and the substance on their own. In general, there is less hand-holding between the viewer and the writers; the script speaks for itself. Viewers today want to watch TV shows that are varied. This distinction exemplifies the growth of viewers preferences compared to TV shows from the 1970s like “Starsky and Hutch” that had only one plot line, whereas, today viewers demand for variation, like in “Lost” a show with multiple plot-lines.


One thought on ““Watching TV Makes You Smarter” by: Steven Johnson

  1. I completely agree with your views! I’m sure if Steven Johnson saw “Jersey Shore” he would NOT think that is beneficial reality television at all. Johnson believes television shows that are complex with a complex plot line are the shows viewers should be watching and partaking in, because it provides stimulation to the brain through “pay[ing] attention, mak[ing] inferences, [and] track shifting social relationships” (279).

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