Office Space & Everything Bad is Good for You

Jul 12th

Normally I look at weekends as a chance to catch up & get ahead, but that is a recipe for burnout. This weekend I spent a good amount of time watching shows like Office Space, and appreciating taking time out to do nothing. I also bought a killer grill which my roommate has already cooked on twice. :)

I just got done reading Steven Berlin Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, which is a book built around the thesis that modern culture is making us smarter. He covers video games, TV, & the internet as mediums which are helping us stretch the limits of our cognitive facilities.

Video Games:

  • Most people do not read the manual to learn how to play games. They usually grab a controller, probe, learn, analyze, and reprobe. While not being as in depth as the scientific process Johnson states he believes video game play can help people learn the scientific process.

  • Video games can help teach pattern recognition.
  • Some simulation games, such as the Sims, also can help children learn about some social and economic issues.
  • Learning to work your way through video games can help boost your confidence levels.

For a long time I had given up on new video games, viewing anything beyond the original MarioKart as a distraction, but I recently have started playing a few of the 3D platform games and my roommate said I was picking it up rather quickly.

Television:

  • Television has grown increasingly complex over the past 30 years.

  • Most of the most successful shows are those which mentally challenge the viewers the most. Some shows are multithreaded and intentionally leave information out, or require prior knowledge from episodes gone by.
  • Reality television can help people understand social graphs and read people. Few faces show more emotion than the face of a person who has just wasted 6 months in an artifical environment to be told they are not good enough.

I still do not watch TV, but apparently I missed out on over 40 home runs yesterday.

Internet:

  • it force to use new interfaces

  • it provides new feedback channels on a platform to participate
  • helps give feedback on other media types to allow them to be more complex. Some people even layer other media types.
    Examples:

    • the NYT recently published an article about a website providing free extensions to Grand Theft Auto

    • Amazon.com reviews for Everything Bad... including this somewhat random one "I wanted to buy this book, and I saw it had a 4 star average, so I decided to read all 10 reviews. Only one problem--add the stars from the 10 reviews and you get 26 stars. That's an average of 2.6 stars, far from the stated 4 star average review."
    • this blog post & most of this site in general

I am a big fan of the internet, as it is my livelihood. My roommate thinks I am crazy sometimes when I laugh at the screen, but sometimes I really am LOL. hehehe

Overall Impression of Book:
I felt that the first 140 pages of the book were not that exciting & captivating, but found the last 60 pages where he justifies society getting smarter exceptionally interesting.

Classroom Learning:
There are countless studies and complaints about school budgets getting spread thin and classroom learning falling off. I have not studied the topic in depth, but from first hand experience I did not jive well with the classroom environment because I found it understimulating or uncomprehendible.

Understimulating Examples:

  • In second grade my teacher would rip up my math homework because I would do it in class before she taught me how to do it.

  • In 4TH grade we played around the world, where whoever said the answer to an arithmetic question fastest got to keep playing and go against the next person. I won so many times in a row that I was actually getting bood and almost everyone in the class cheered when another kid beat me.
  • After 5TH grade they had me take the college level entry exam because I was good at math. For some reason in 8TH grade they started me out in slow learners math. I never slept more in another class ever. As they advanced me through math classes that year I slept less.
  • In high school I would usually do my math homework before I was taught how to. One time another kid named Aaron was a year ahead of me in math. He had a test the same day as I did and both of us were sick the day of our exams. The next day our teacher was sick and the substitute teacher gave me the wrong exam. By cross referencing the test problems and typing random keys into my calculator I derived the algorithms needed to solve problem types I had never seen in my life.

Math was a subject I excelled in, and yet somehow I went from taking the college entry exam because of math to being in slow learners class in only a few years. Even though I was decent at math the high school example was a better example of applying video game learning techniques to the classroom than of learning from the classroom.

Uncomprehendible Examples:

  • I have always been a horrific speller. I probably read or write over 10,000 words a day and still am bad at it. I never dreamed I would read and write as much as I do today, but it did not do much for my self esteem when I was younger to tear me up on the subject. I probably could have honestly used slow learners classes for that subject.

  • I had bad vision growing up and did not know it until half way through high school. One of my 7TH grade teachers chewed me out and called me a liar when I said I could not see the questions on her dusty chalk board from the back row.

If you understimulate a child or ask them to do things far beyond their ability they are going to get little to nothing out of it. Our current education system does not even attempt to cater to students skills, desires, and shortfalls.

My roommate, currently in college, enjoys his elective classes most and hates many of the required classes he is forced to take (many of which are off topic, uninteresting, and / or understimulating). Steve Jobs said he didn't get to start dropping in on the classes he wanted to take until after he dropped out of the courses he was required to take.

As other avenues and technologies advance at faster and faster rates and there becomes a wider variety of forces pulling at our attention the classroom will continue to become more irrelevant until the format can shift to accomidate a wider spectrum of students.

Race to the Bottom? or Top?
Although IQ tests have inherent cultural biases you can wipe those out by looking at the population as a whole. While people complain about schools it appears that some non school related learning activities caused the Flynn Effect, which shows IQ rates raising in many countries at about 3 points per decade. Those aspects of learning not directly related to school are growing quickly throughout the general populous in developed countries.

Steven believes much of the Flynn Effect is due to what he calls the Sleeper Curve, which points to how media is changing toward an ever increasingly complex landscape which requires more of it's viewers to watch or participate in.

The Business of Syndication:
Johnson seems to cover a good bit of marketing & business model information for writing books that seem like they are about other topics. For example, with television and movies there has been a dynamic shift in financial viablility of a show based on it's replayability.

Cable syndication and DVD sales means that businesses have the potential to make far more money by creating products that people would want to watch over and over again. To pull that off the movie or show needs to challenge the viewers mind. By including many subtle plotlines and leaving out information shows like The Simpsons can become even funnier after viewing it a second or third time.

Flawed Logic?
One area I disagree with Steven on is in the idea that a competitive marketplace requires vendors to create more interactive media that requires more from it's audience. All you need to profit is a targetable marketplace. As Fox News has proved, you can do that by creating overtly biased channels.

I am starting to go a bit off topic of a book review, but am sorta trying to tie it into the web stuff a bit more.

The Value of Fan Sites:
Not all consumers are created equal. Those who are the most opinionated are also those who are most likely to express themselves and ensure others see their opinions.

Brains like to be challenged. By creating something that is so complex that people feel there should be a guide for it you are more likely to create a product that will have many fan sites.

Finding a variety of opinions is easy. Just Google it [please do not punch me for using that word as a verb]. The key to doing well is to get the right kind of people to find you. If you can create a challenge for the brain and get people to notice it someone will build a business model out of it.

Extension of Attention Markets:
What happens when the bulk of people view things by making micropayments to Google?

In the same way videos, TV shows, and video games need to be rewatchable or replayable to be successful websites need to be rewatchable or replayable to be linkable. SearchEngineWatch, the most trusted brand in the search marketing space, added forums and a blog to their site in the last year or so to help extend out their brand and keep their site relevant in the ever changing attention space of the web medium.

Business and Feelings:

"feelings" and business don't really seem to go hand in hand.

- Jeff Molander, affiliate marketing guru

I disagree. Good businesses know how to make people feel good about doing what the businesses want them to do. Bad businesses ignore feelings.

People are highly predictible and the web makes activity easy to track as well, but if you treat them as more than statistics over time that will snowball. If people feel good about buying your stuff then they are more likely to link and tell their friends about you.

Published: July 12, 2005

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