If That's Smart

Let Me Be Stupid

Further to what I was writing upon the other day of the dumbing down of people's intellect through the misuse of language comes the news that television and video games actually are making us smarter. Although the literacy gap is growing, the number of people who can read, comprehend and form sentences is lessening compared to even a couple of years ago, so called other abilities are being strengthened. T.V. And video games supposedly teach people how to comprehend multiple images and ideas at once, be ideally suited to compete in today's frenetic high tech world. Supposedly being able to follow an episode of the Sopranos makes you more intelligent then someone who watched television in the seventies with their simple plot lines and narrative structure.

That's all very well and good, but the problem I see is that it is a matter of style or form over content. Lets take the example cited of t.v shows. Compare an episode of Lost with its multiple characters and plot lines with an episode of MASH with its at most two plot lines per episode and familiar cast. Both shows deal with a set situation removed from normal circumstances, a group of people from diverse backgrounds and differing personalities, and then a plot for that weeks action to give those people a chance to interact. With an hour to at its disposal Lost is able to give us back stories on it's characters which provides us with understanding of their motivations. MASH on the other hand relied on the actors developing their characters to fill in those details. Individual episodes for each are sub plots within the over all storey line.

In other words they both follow the same basic formula that all television shows. The difference being that in most cases the shows of today(Lost is an exception but it still falls into this trap on occasion)sacrifice content for form. Where we used to spend a half hour to hour with people getting to know them and their situation, shows today prefer to bounce all over the place, piling scene after scene on top of each other in the hopes of maintaining interest: if you didn't like that well maybe you'll like this.

They are the equivalent of sound bites trying to trigger a manipulated response from an audience. Instead of allowing us to develop an opinion over time we are told to feel something. There is not enough time allowed for assimilation and decision making. Sure we are able to follow more plot lines at once, but there is no room to draw conclusions or come to realizations about the characters or the situations. There is no thinking.

As is the case with Internet short form the ability to form structured thought processes is being eroded in favour of short bursts of information that are designed to stimulate a desired effect in the receptor. We are all being turned into programmable people, who like our computers will respond to a series of prompts eliciting required responses. Any thing can input massive amounts of information and be directed by them, but it's the ability to be able to interpret this information, make choices about it, and then act on that choice that denotes intelligence.

It seems to me that our definition of smart is being changed to accommodate the fact that people are not being encouraged to think or form opinions anymore. So not only are we dumbing down on an individual level, but as a society.

cheers gypsyman


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