Thirty Minutes Later: Are You Smarter Yet?

Each and every night millions upon millions of people turn on their televisions and tune in to their favorite programs. Most people think that this behavior is perfectly normal and that nothing is either exceptionally good or detrimentally bad about doing so. Others actually think that watching television can and sometimes does make you smarter. I feel that the general statement “tv makes you smarter” is not specific enough when talking about such an issue. I think that some television programs can help you gain some knowledge but I do not believe that all television makes you smarter.
So, does watching television make you smarter, dumber, or does it have no affect at all? In Steven Johnson’s essay “Watching TV Makes You Smarter” he argues that watching television “alters the mental development of young people for the better (291)”. Meaning that when young people watch television it can aide in the development of their minds. In a nutshell, he is saying that watching television can actually make a person smarter. In his essay, Johnson uses the popular show 24 to support his claim. He states that “to make sense of an episode of 24 you have to pay attention, make inferences, and track social relationships”(279).
Johnson refers to this as part of what he calls the Sleeper Curve. Johnson believes that the Sleeper Curve is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today, and it is largely a force for good”(279). He agrees that the media may indeed contain more negative messages but he doesn’t think that is the only way to evaluate whether our television shows are having a positive impact or not. In one part of his essay, Johnson compares the intellectual strain of watching shows like Frasier, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show to the physical strain of watching Monday Night Football.

With that comparison he is basically saying that the viewer doesn’t have to think about the content of the show in order to follow the storyline the same way a person doesn’t have to actually play football in order to enjoy a game. Throughout his essay, Johnson even goes as far as to say that even “bad” television has gotten better. To validate this point he talks about Joe Millionaire and The Apprentice.
He discusses how in order how in order to win the show contestants had to overcome certain obstacles, figure out “weak spots” in the game, and use everything they learned to complete the last challenge which usually contained a twist. This goes to say that on the surface it may seem like these shows are easy to follow but they contain surprises that may interrupt what the viewer thought was going to happen. Johnson states that “traditional narrative also trigger emotional connections to the characters” (291). He explains this by talking about the largely popular show Survivor, and how because our emotions are involved it becomes easy to vote someone off the island as opposed to someone else.
I think that only certain types of television shows makes you smarter, so part of me agrees with Steven Johnson’s argument. I think that people can learn things from certain kinds of shows. When a person watches show on the Food Network, the person will most likely learn how to prepare a new dish, or improve upon a technique that they are having trouble with. Another example would be when children watch “Dora the Explorer”. Some people might only see a show like this as way to keep children quiet and occupied.
What they would realize if they actually sat down and watched an episode or two is that children can earn many things like; shapes, colors, numbers, letters and even some Spanish, all within the thirty minute runtime of the show. There may be some sitcoms or reality shows out there that you can learn from but I have yet to find one that I learned a lesson from. The reason I don’t fully agree with his argument that television makes you smarter is because I think only certain types of shows make you smarter. I think in his essay he is referring to all television shows and genres.
I think he is referring to all genres in his argument because he doesn’t say that any specific genre or show is excluded. I don’t think a person can learn anything from a football game, or an episode of Family Guy because, in my opinion, these shows have the sole purpose of entertaining the people that watch them. Family Guy is an animated series about a family and all of the crazy situations they get themselves in to. By the way, one member of the family is a talking baby. In Dana Stevens’ essay, Thinking Outside the Idiot Box, she blatantly disagrees with Johnson.
She even goes as far as to mock him saying, “If watching television really make you smarter, as Steven Johnson argued in an article… then I guess I need to watch a lot more television…because…I could make no sense of Johnson’s piece”(295). I think this comment used logos because she is saying that since she wasn’t able to understand Johnson’s argument maybe she doesn’t watch enough television. Of course this comment was a sarcastic one. In order to make this point clearer she references the popular children’s show Teletubbies, saying that it is “essentially a tutorial instructing toddlers the basics of vegging out” (Stevens 296).
She thinks that the show 24 teaches you nothing except to watch further episodes of the show. Stevens also states that Johnson’s claim for television as a tool for brain enhancement seems deeply and hilariously bogus (297). So, clearly Stevens is a part of the group of people that do not think television makes you smarter. I don’t think Stevens is totally watching television. I think instead she is against people watching television all the time and thinking it will make them smarter. She thinks that adults should monitor the amount of television they watch, the same way they monitor the number f alcoholic drinks they consume at a bar.
Stevens ends her essay by giving readers a way to test Johnson’s theory: “National Television Turnoff Week” (298). Even if the participant’s IQ doesn’t drop from not watching television, it would still give people’s minds a break from watching television and give them the opportunity to tune back in with real people, real problems, and real life. She also mentions a handheld device that can switch off any television set within twenty to twenty-five feet. The difference between this remote and any other remote already on the market is that this remote would have the ability to control all television sets within its radius.
Like with any new technology there are both proponents and opponents. Proponents think that this device will restore peace and calmness to public places such as airports and bus stations. Opponents think this just another way for people to try to control their lives. I think the device is very invasive and controlling. If people want to watch television for twenty-four hours straight, they are adults and they should be able to do that. This device relates to the debate about television because people that think television is watched too much would want this remote to be used.
But for people that think television is useful as well as entertaining, the use of this device would seem like an invasion of privacy. I am personally on the fence of this issue. I think some television programs have educational value. I also think people should watch less television, and perhaps pick up a book- which are proven to make you smarter. I think shows such as Wheel of Fortune, Family Feud, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire make you smarter because you can’t help but immerse yourself in the show and try to get the answers right.
Even if you get the answers wrong, or never use the information you gained, you sill learned something. On the other hand, I don’t think reality television shows can teach you anything at all. Think of your favorite reality show, now take a few seconds to make a mental list of the things you have learned from watching that show. If you can think of anything at all, the list is probably very short. This is ok because the sole purpose of television is not to educate people. I think television is supposed to be watched for entertainment purposes.
If you were to take a poll of the television shows people watch on a regular basis, most of the answers would probably be; Scandal, Teen Mom, and NCIS. These shows I would have to say contain very little to nothing to teach a person. Some shows can even encourage bad behaviors and influence people to do bad things. Let’s take the popular MTV show Teen Mom for instance; before the show first premiered, when teens would get pregnant they didn’t think it was cool, or cute, and they definitely were not posting pictures on Facebook with their pregnant friends.
When teenage girls saw all of the fame the stars of the show were getting, it somehow registered in their minds that if they got pregnant at a young age they would somehow become the star of a show, get paid for it, and live a happy life. What they don’t realize until it’s too late is that most of the stuff on “reality” shows are staged and fake. One of my personal favorite shows was Jersey Shore, which was a reality show about a group of strangers living in a house together for a number of months.
The show followed all of the drinking, smoking, drama, and sex that went on in that house. What young teens seemed to forget was that the people on that show were of legal drinking age that were held accountable for their own actions, so when they went out trying to mimic the cast members behavior they and their parents ended up in trouble. This supports my claim that some television programs are for entertainment purposes because when things are imitated that shouldn’t be the consequences are much worse in real life than they are on the show.
I also feel as though the time people spend watching television could be spent doing more productive things such as exercising, working, reading, or having and actual conversation with someone. If people sent half as much time doing things like that as they do watching and recording their favorite shows I think people would be a lot healthier and happier. In my opinion watching television is like a double-edged sword. Watching television sometimes for entertainment purposes is a good way to relax and connect with friends and family.
I think the trouble happens when people become consumed with their favorite shows and totally disconnect from the real world. I admit. There have been a few times when I have been doing something and I just dropped everything because I knew the season premiere of my favorite show would be starting son. But some people drop everything for every episode of their favorite show. That kind of behavior can actually hurt relationships because no one wants to be constantly tuned out by a show that will most likely come on multiple times within the next few days.
I think until someone does some sort of definitive research on whether or not watching television makes a person smarter, this will be an ongoing debate. Things like remote devices that can control any television aren’t going to change people’s opinions. If anything it will only make them feel angry towards the people trying to control a part of their lives. Television just like anything else in the world has its positive and negative points. I just don’t think one of those positives is making people smarter.

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