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Steven Johnson in his essay “Watching TV makes you smarter” presents the notion that the general consensus that television is actually detrimental towards intellectual development and is a waste of time is actually nothing more than a myth. He proves this point by stating that the increasingly complex plotlines present in modern day television is indicative of a greater desire for cognitive stimulation by the masses with television shows growing more and more complex in order to keep up with this demand.
Television programming, from the perspective of Johnson, has become more detailed, more focused on presenting information that viewers would normally never encounter and, as a result, has actually expanded their intellectual horizons.
This particular perspective is connected to the various “lessons” that viewers learn from television involving social thinking, cultural interaction as well as general knowledge of the world. It is based on these perspectives that this paper fully agrees with the perspective of Johnson regarding the connection between television, intellectual stimulation and the growth of personal knowledge.
However, it can be argued that while Johnson presented a very succinct argument, it is lacking in its view regarding the capacity of television to educate, enlighten and expand the knowledge of a viewer. It is the belief of this paper that television programming can be considered as one of the most important teaching tools currently in place due to the unprecedented access to information that people can get through it.
Tool for General Knowledge
In the essay, Johnson mentioned television programming such as “24” and “E.R.” as series that makes viewers think and actually expands their knowledge by enabling them to understand complex social issues and topics in a format that is easy to internalize. What he neglected to mention was the sheer proliferation of documentaries, investigative programming and niche knowledge shows that are currently shown on television.
Television channels such as Discovery, Animal Planet, and National Geographic provide viewers with a wealth of knowledge that they otherwise would not have been able to encounter in their daily lives. Aspects related to the behavior of animals, the universe, chemical reactions, new discoveries in science as well as the cultures of other countries are all available on these channels for viewers to watch.
The programming on these channels lack the “drama” value that shows such as “24” and “E.R.” possess, however, they do provide the intellectual stimulation that Johnson stated was demanded by the general public when it came to the programming that they watched.
From a general knowledge perspective, these shows expose viewers to a plethora of information that enables them to learn about a wide variety of different topics and shows that the consensus that television turns people into “drooling idiots” so to speak is actually far from the truth.
Knowledge in this form is easy to internalize, intellectually stimulating and actually creates a desire for people to learn more about a topic or issue that has no impact on their lives. This shows that television can act as a tool for mental stimulation and actually bring about a considerable level of interest in a topic.
Issues with Learning
Before proceeding to the next aspect of why watching television makes you smarter, it is important to showcase the connection between television and intellectual development. First and foremost, what must be understood is that not all information can be easily digested; sometimes it needs to be simplified in order for it to be easily understood.
Educators around the world know this and, as such, slowly introduce complex issues to their students in stages in order for them to fully understand each aspect of an issue in order to fully comprehend its entirety. Simplification in this instance enables a person to better understand complex issues since there needs to be a suitable foundation of knowledge on a topic that a student can build upon in order to actually understand the subject matter being presented.
It is with this in mind that television can be considered as an ideal teaching tool since it simplifies complex issues in such a way that viewers can easily understand what is being presented (Linebarger 62).
For instance, medical dramas such as “E.R.” and “House” encounter a plethora of complex medical cases yet simplify the information in such a way that viewers can understand the gist of what a medical case is all about. Euphemisms and examples are utilized alongside medical jargon resulting in viewers being able to inference the details of the procedures, disease and means of resolving the issue.
Viewers by the end of the episode tend to be far more knowledgeable about a particular medical condition in the span of 30 minutes as compared to reading a book about it and attempting to interpret the details and descriptions given by the author. Simply put, television can act as a concise learning tool for the masses regarding a plethora of different topics (Varma 117). While Johnson touched on the subject, he neglected to truly expound on the idea in the same way that it was done above.
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Entertainment Creates Interest
Aside from simplifying information so that it can be easily understood, another aspect of television that Johnson neglected to cover was the connection between the creation of interest in a topic and the disengagement of students when it comes to learning. One of the most common situations seen in classrooms around the world are disinterested students merely sitting around and not truly internalizing the lesson that is being taught.
This behavior has been connected to a lack of interest and engagement with the lessons being presented. However, from the perspective of Samaniego and Pascual, it was noted that television programming creates a considerable level of interest in the topic being presented.
This is not to say that recording a lesson and having it played on TV would create interest, rather, it is more accurate to state that the formatting, the use of drama, the presence of exciting scenes and even comedic moments is what causes people to take an active interest in what they are watching (Samaniego and Pascual 5).
This particular notion has been applied in the past through shows such as Sesame Street and Learning Rainbow which have both been critically acclaimed due to their ability to actually get children interested in learning (Linebarger and Piotrowski 1582).
This particular facet of television programming helps to support the assertion made by Johnson that television makes you smarter since it has been acknowledged that educational programming such as Sesame Street and Learning Rainbow have actually resulted in making children smarter (Linebarger and Piotrowski 1582).
Tool for Social Learning
While most people would deride reality television as being nothing more than trash, Johnson presents the theory of “The Sleeper Curve” which explains that television actually helps to positively develop the mental development of younger individuals. He delves into this topic by presenting reality television as a means of personal development for people.
This paper fully agrees with the statements of Johnson, however, what is lacking in his arguments is a focus on the concept of social learning and its connection to television. While reality television may be lacking in intellectual quality, it more than makes up for it by showcasing social situations, interpersonal interactions as well as methods of communication between people from different ethnicities and social classes (Paredes, Cantu, and Graf 23).
Through the various events that are portrayed on television, a person becomes better able to gauge how they are expected to react when it comes to dealing with other people. In a sense, reality TV acts as a means of educating people on the current realities of interpersonal communication and what means of social interaction may be expected of them (Paredes, Cantu, and Graf 23). Aside from this, it is also a great way of seeing how “the other half lives” for lack of a better term.
For example, there are shows such as “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” which show how individuals from the working class live their lives. It can be considered as a window into examining how people from the social class interact with one another, what are their habits, hobbies and what sets them apart from members of the middle and upper class of society.
By watching reality television, people thus become more informed about the current situation of different social classes and where they can relate with them. From a certain perspective, reality television actually aides in breaking down social barriers since it enables people to find a middle ground when it comes to communicating and collaborating with one another.
This is one aspect that Johnson failed to touch upon yet is obvious when you think about how people tend to develop an understanding of others through observation. Reality TV is basically a convenient method of analyzing social contexts and developing the necessary knowledge to interact with a wide variety of individuals.
Access to the Latest News
Aside from the educational aspects that have been tackled thus far, it is also important to note that television acts as a means of keeping up to date with the various events happening in the world and within the city that you live in. This capacity to be well informed regarding the latest events and incidents can be considered as a way in which people become smarter since it enables them to make informed choices regarding their daily lives.
For instance, reports of increasing crime rates within a particular city would make an informed individual think more carefully regarding their current living situation and would decide to move elsewhere. It is based on this example alone that it can be seen that watching the news on televisions can be a very educational experience since it enables people to make smart and informed choices.
Criticisms against the Essay
One of the main criticisms that can be directed against the essay of Johnson is the fact that when it comes to internalizing knowledge from television, it is basically random. When going to school and learning from a teacher, there is a structured curriculum that is followed in order to enable a person to internalize the lessons that are being taught.
The gradual progression of the lesson followed by the guidance of the teacher helps learners to slowly understand what is being taught. In the case of television programming, while the information is easily internalized, it may not be the type of information that a person truly wants to learn.
Compared to going to a library and getting the type of information that you want from a book, television randomly gives information based on the type of programming that has been selected or that day.
Not only that, viewers have no control over the theme of the episodes and, as such, are subject to the whims of the writers of the episode. It is with this in mind that it can be stated that while television programming is an excellent way for people to learn a variety of different topics, the information that is internalized varied between what is necessary and what is completely trivial.
Based on what has been presented so far, it can be stated that television programming can be considered as one of the most important teaching tools currently in place due to the unprecedented access to information that people can get through it. The sheer amount of knowledge that a person can gain from the various channels on TV ranging from documentaries to reality television shows the breadth and depth of the knowledge that can be accessed at any given moment.
Linebarger, Deborah L. “Teaching With Television.” Phi Delta Kappan 93.3 (2011): 62. Print
Linebarger, Deborah L., and Jessica Taylor Piotrowski. “Structure And Strategies In Children’s Educational Television: The Roles Of Program Type And Learning Strategies In Children’s Learning.” Child Development 81.5 (2010): 1582-1597. Print
Paredes, Valerie, Vanessa C. Cantu, and Noreen M. Graf. “The Impact Of Reality Television On The Alcohol-Related Beliefs And Behaviors Of Hispanic College Students.” Journal Of Alcohol & Drug Education 57.1 (2013): 23-45. Print
Samaniego, Concepción Medrano, and Alejandra Cortés Pascual. “The Teaching And Learning Of Values Through Television.” International Review Of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft 53.1 (2007): 5-21. Print
Varma, Archita. “Impact Of Watching International Television Programs On Adolescents In India: A Research Note.” Journal Of Comparative Family Studies 31.1 (2000): 117-126. Print