Context Book: Everything Bad is Good for You

Is it just me, or is everything making us dumber. Whether it’s reality TV or Google or video games, it’s clear from the vast majority of voices in print and on the internet that popular culture is making us dumber.

Or is it?

Not according to Steven Johnson in his book Everything Bad is Good for You. Here are a few of Johnson’s main points:

  1. Reading is only seen as the paragon of free-time applications because it came first. Not to say that Johnson is anti-book. He wrote one, so that alone should say something. Reading is extremely important for developing and honing mental skills like imagination and books, according to the author, “remain the most powerful vehicle for conveying complicated information.”
  2. Other forms of popular culture such as video games, television and the Internet are becoming increasingly complex and are “honing different mental skills that are just as important as the ones exercised by reading books.”
  3. By examining data on IQ scores collected by James Flynn, we can see that we appear to be getting smarter in ways that can not be attributed to improvement in education or lifestyle. Johnson posits that the reason for the change is the growing complexity of popular culter.

My favorite part of the book focuses on video games; those oft-maligned experiences of cultural degradation. Games may seem like playtime, but most of today’s video games require serious WORK. For example, I play the online game Runescape. I was told that while the game gets better after you become a member, you should work on leveling up before you join. Okay, I thought, Easy enough. So I took my little avatar and started killing stuff, first chickens, then cows, then baddies like trolls and orcs. And you know what: it got boring! And I was only at level 30. The recommended level for a member is 60+!

But every other kid that walks into my library has spent hours and hours killing trolls to level up their combat skills and more hours perfecting a skill (mine was mining) that will provide them with money. Why do we do all this? For the eventual reward. The little box that pops up telling you that you gained a smithing level is worth everything in the world. Those rewards are what keep players playing the game even when it seems monotonous.

And the most important thing for our brains is what happens while we’re playing the game and killing all those cows. It’s a process that Johnson calls probing and telescoping. First, a gamer has to figure out what s/he needs to do. To do that, we test theories and hypothesis. This is what Johnson calls probing.

What happens when you click on the brown cow? You kill it.

What happens when you click on the black cow? You get milk.

What happens when you click on the milkmaid? Nothing…

At the same time, a player is trying to reach an ultimate goal. In a game like Zelda, that might be beating the game. In an open-ended game like Runescape, it might be leveling up or getting a certain amount of gold. In order to reach that goal, you must accomplish many other smaller goals. This part is called telescoping.

I want to buy a better sword so,

I need more money so,

I need to sell better things so,

I need to increase my crafting ability so,

I need to craft leather gloves so,

I need a needle and some tanned leather so,

I need to give some hides and gold to the tanner so,

I need to get some hides so,

I need to kill a cow

Now, you say, that’s nice and all, but when will you need to kill cows, buy swords, or make leather gloves in the real world. Well, it’s not about the cows. According to Johnson, “the collateral learning of the experience offers a far more profound reward: the ability to probe and telescope in difficult and ever-changing situations.”

So video games aren’t just helping us learn, they’re helping us become life-long learners and problem solvers. And as I’ve said many times before, the kid who saves the world probably won’t remember when the Battle of Hastings was, but s/he’ll know how and where to find the information s/he needs.

Johnson goes on to discuss how television (even reality TV) increases our emotional intelligence and how the internet increases social connections.

What’s the connection to libraries? If pop culture is making people smarter, then it’s not just fluff to offer DVD’s and computers at libraries: it’s essential. Maybe we should start circulating video games, too! (Sit down, AL.) Sorry for the long post, everyone but I hope it was interesting (if not entertaining!)

All quotations taken from:

Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good for You. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.

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Nerdfighters FTW!

Think back to when you were in high school. Did you know a nerd? Were you friends with a nerd? Maybe you even were a nerd… I know I was. And if you were a nerd in high school, you know that being a nerd can be a pretty lonely thing. Sure there are groups of nerds, like band nerds, chess nerds and computer club nerds, but if you’re a anime nerd, or a science fiction nerd, it could be really hard to connect to other who share your passions…

Until now!

John Green, author of YA novels like Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns, teamed up with his brother Hank to start a Web 2.0 project where they created daily alternating vlog (video blog) posts. They called their project Brotherhood 2.0 and vlogged about their lives and their work. Hank is a expert on green technologies and writes about them on his blog Ecogeek. He also writes songs. Here’s an example of their early work:

About halfway through the project, Hank wrote a little song about the last Harry Potter book, which was getting ready to come out that week.

The video was featured on YouTube’s front page and the popularity of the already popular group exploded.

The result: Nerdfighters

So, why should we care? Well, below is my well reasoned (?) argument. Links abound, and most of them are to B 2.0 videos. They’re mostly to explain the odd references. Click if you wish.

Why Brotherhood 2.0/Nerdfighters is important for future librarians:

1) Understanding the power of Web 2.0 and social networking.
John and Hank Green have taking their random musings and turned them into an internet sensation. Now, of course, that’s partially because they’re made of awesome, but also because they were not afraid to put themselves out there. Since the end of the official Brotherhood 2.0 project, they have created their own social network using Ning, as well as maintaining profiles on YouTube and Facebook. Are most librarians as awesomely jokes as Hank and John Green? Probably not, and we won’t be pwning Oprah anytime soon, but we can still increase our visibility by increasing our web presence. To understand just what Brotherhood 2.0 has done for John, take a look at his most recent vlog post.

2) Understanding our users.
The vlogbrothers YouTube Channel has 45,473 subscribers and the Nerdfighters Ning has 14,499 members. Sure, some of those people are authors, librarians and Hank and John’s friends and family. But most of those people are teens and young adults who self-identify as nerds and like things like fantasy, science fiction, Harry Potter and Twilight. “We’re Nerdfighters: We fight against suck….we fight awesome We fight using our brains, our hearts, our calculators and our trombones.”
Ladies and Gentlemen: These people are library users, or they should be.

I’m not saying that you need to go to YouTube and watch all 361 videos or carve your own DFTBA jack-o-lantern (DFTBA stands for Don’t Forget To Be Awesome). but watching a few of the B2 Must See Videos or looking around at the Ning might help librarians understand their teen users (although librarians who like to ban social networking sites should not be told about ning.com)

Until next time, Best Wishes!

Social? Yup! That’s me!

It’s all my sister’s fault. She kept nagging at me to get a facebook page. She had joined back when you had to have a college e-mail account (I had already graduated) and she was looking for a way to stay connected (she lives in GA).

So I joined. I threw a picture up there and jumped head first into the realm of social networking. I approached facebook like I do with most new things, especially technology related things. I rush in with the intention of being TOTALLY involved, check my page several times a day, spending time poking around on all my friends profiles, until eventually my life gets busy with the next new obsession and my passion decreases or disappears all together.

While I no longer spend hours on the site, or feel desperate to check in at work (okay, I don’t check it *often*) I do find that I check my facebook account as regularly or more so than my e-mail account. It doesn’t take me long, and it helps me check in with what my people are up to. I really resonated with what Michael said over at Read and Burn about connecting with people that life had previously separated, like my bff who moved in 10th grade or my college roommate who spent 3 years in Japan.

I’d like to comment on some of the articles we read about using Facebook from a professional perspective. I especially find Judi Sohn’s article about 12 Ways to Use Facebook Professionally. For example, while I’ve never thought of it this way, I do follow the principle of decorating you profile like you would decorate your desk. Of course, on my desk right now is a stuffed dragon, a mug from the show Wicked and a golden snitch made out of Model Magic. So YMMV.

One of the pieces of advice I have not followed is being selective about my Apps. Of course, I don’t use facebook purely as a professional tool, and none of the apps that I have chosen to include are particularly embarassing. (and I don’t care how unprofessional it is, I ❤ Flair. period.) And there are also some fun apps available for librarians. I have visual bookshelf and worldcat search, and my causes are banned books and creative commons. I need to look more into the Librarian App.

One thing I wonder about is the difference between personal and professional when it comes to beliefs. Obviously, I’m not a person who has a hard time sharing her opinion, but as I espressed in this previous post, I have chosen not to list my religious and politial affiliations on my Facebook page. My reasoning for this is, as a librarian, I need to present a neutral persona, so that all patron can feel comfortable in approaching me. But it’s really hard when I see cool groups I want to join or flair buttons I want to add. What are others doing about this? Do you think it is appropriate to display a political or religious statement on your facebook or blog?

For my group

Here’s the video I was talking about

Library Video

Library as Kinkos

I’ll admit. I get a little annoyed when I have to help patrons use the copy machine. Not the occasional patron that needs assistance copying a homework assignment from a reference book. No, the patron who is copying most of their personal photo album and needs all of the pictures increased by 35.7% and double sided, in color on their own paper please. My comment to co-workers after spending time helping such a patron was always: “This is the library, not Kinkos.”

But I had two experiences this week that are leading me in a new direction as far as what the definition of library service might be.

First, I had a patron call the library to ask if we had Comic Life on our computers. I had never heard of it before. It appears to be a graphics program that allows you to make your photos into a comic strip, adding text bubbles and special effects. My guess is that the elementary schools in my area (which are Mac based) may have this program, and that this student had an assignment that she needed to finish. We don’t have this software, and at first I thought it was a strange product for a library to have.

Later, I went upstairs as a patron to use our library’s scanner to scan some pictures. The computer attached to the scanner is about 7 years old and even scanning pictures at 600 resolution took forever. Trying to print them, or even attach them via e-mail was a total nightmare. I talked to the IT guy (who is actually pretty cool and L 2.0) who said that he will be replacing the computer soon based on my suggestion and may be trying to update the printer and the scanner. But as I told him, it doesn’t make sense to offer a service (scanning) if it doesn’t work properly.

So this led me to thinking about what other places are doing about helping patrons create content. Such as the Charlotte Mecklenburg County library’s ImaginOn center that allows teens to create digital content, such as movies. Or the Loyola Information Commons which allows students to check out digital cameras and video cameras. Even Borders is helping people get digital.

Of course, not every library will be able to set up their own digital studio, but making these technologies available to patrons who would not otherwise have access to them does seem to fit within the library mission. As patrons (especially Millennials) become more and more savvy at creating online content, could the library maintain it’s relevancy by assisting in that process? Libraries will never be Kinkos, but we may be able to provide better library service by incorporating some of their ideas.

Virtually Community

It seems that since I was able to access the Internet, I have been involved in one virtual community or another. Initially it was a *very* small community of IRL friends who gathered in an AOL chatroom to play a traditional role-playing game over the Internet.

Later, I dabbled briefly in a few chat groups through our college “dataphones” which allowed a text-only interface.

I was very intimidated by chatrooms, which are so hard to read and follow. I wasn’t a very fast typist back then, and always felt like, by the time I composed my response, that the group had moved on.

After college, I discovered the vast and sprawling Harry Potter community through a variety of websites, such as The Leaky Cauldron for news and information, and Sugar Quill for fanfiction. Even though I had user names on both of those sites (and many others) I was essentially a consumer: reading what others had posted and occasionally commenting, but never offering my own work or information.

The only online community to which I was ever a contributor was for a brief time when I was creating pixel art. I was part of a forum where artist would post their work and others would comment on it. My pixel period was not very prolific, however, and I soon left that community.

In the few online communities I belong to now, I never seem to get past the lurker stage. may be interested in greater involvement, but either don’t feel worthy or don’t know how.”  The part about not feeling worthy really resonates with me. Who am I to comment on whatever topic may be at hand. I’m content to just listen to the experts and absorb.

Now that I have my own blog, however, I have been force to put myself a bit more “out there.”  I may not be an expert, but really, how many of the members of my online communities really are experts? We’re all just folks trying to make a connection in a big world that keeps getting smaller.