Next Thursday, November 4, I'll be giving a speech at CalTech in Pasadena as part of their Voices Of Vision series. (It starts at eight, and is free and open to the public -- directions here.) The title for the speech is Everything Bad Is Good For You: Why Today's Pop Culture Is Making Our Kids Smarter. I don't normally plug speeches in this space, but I thought I'd make an exception for this one, because this talk will be the first time I've spoken publicly about my new book. And I didn't want to talk about it to a bunch of strangers at CalTech without mentioning it here first.
So, yes, there's a new book coming out next spring, called Everything Bad Is Good For You. (The subtitle is still up in the air.) Riverhead is publishing it in the US; Penguin in the UK. I'm in the middle of revisions now, with probably another couple months of edits and fine tuning ahead of me. But it's in pretty good shape, I think.
Unlike my first three books, which were all to varying degrees intellectual travelogues with me as a kind of tour guide ("let me travel with you through the world of emergence, or neuroscience, and show you the interesting landmarks"), Everything Bad is a pure work of persuasion, an old-fashioned polemic. It's shorter than the others, and barely has any chapters, and I'm not really introducing the reader to outside experts as the last two have. It's just me trying to marshal all the evidence I can to persuade the reader of a single long-term trend: that popular culture on average has been steadily growing more complex and cognitively challenging over the past thirty years. The dumbing-down, instant gratification society assumption has it completely wrong. Popular entertainment is making us smarter and more engaged, not catering to our base instincts.
I call this long-term trend the Sleeper Curve, after that famous Woody Allen joke from his mock sci-fi film where a team of scientists from 2029 are astounded that 20th-century society failed to grasp the nutritional merits of cream pies and hot fudge. (In conversation, I sometimes describe this book as the Atkins diet for pop culture.) Over the course of the book, I look at everything from Grand Theft Auto to "24," from Finding Nemo to "Dallas," from "Hill Street Blues" to "The Sopranos," from "Oprah" to "The Apprentice." There's some material about the internet, too, though less than you might suspect. (And I'm pretty sure the word "blog" never appears -- imagine that!) The critical method I've concocted for making the argument is one of my favorite things about the book -- it draws a little on narratology, a little on brain science, a little economics and media criticism, a dash of social network theory. But it tries to yoke all those disciplines together in a consistent and unified way. Or at least I think it does.
So there you go. Obviously I've got much more to say about it, and a few questions to ask. But in the meantime, if you are in the LA area, come out and hear this talk and let me know how the argument sounds in person.