Steven Johnson (co-founder of Feed, which lies very near the top of the list of “websites I miss”) has a new book coming out, Everything Bad is Good for You. The New York Times has an excerpt, and Game Girl Advance has a bullet-list of some of his points. The gist of his thesis seems to be that rather than being a numbing morass of brainless candy, pop culture (video games, TV, etc.) is instead a stimulating experience that requires active participation on the part of the audience, and that this experience is getting more and more complex as audiences’ demands become increasingly sophisticated.

This sounds reminiscent of David Bordwell, whose cognitive theories of film describe a process by which the viewer constructs a model of the narrative in his or her head while watching the action unfold on the screen. This thinking aspect of media, what Johnson calls “the Sleeper Curve,” is a train of thought that I find pretty compelling. I should probably read Johnson’s book before I make any grand pronouncements about breaking free of Marxist/psychoanalytic pessimism, but it’s exciting food for thought nonetheless.