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Sean Boyle

Hey Steven,

I just finished your new book and throughly enjoyed it - a very fresh perspective on where things are at. I was interested however to see that you managed to go through your entire argument with scarcely a mention of advertising and the effect it is having on the intelligence or otherwise of the global populace. In many ways, advertising has 'kept dumb' over the past 50 years. A few notable brands excepting, I don't believe the ad industry has really embraced complexity or the levels of engagement we should perhaps be offering in today's climate. This I might add despite many indications that punters are far better at deciphering not just the message but the strategy behind any particular piece of communication you'd care to mention. In addition, the ongoing debate about advertising to children is as strong as ever. And advertising tends to get blamed for everything from lung cancer deaths to binge drinking and the dramatic rise in obesity and diabetes. I just wondered if you had a perspective or any insights on this?

Otherwise, the best of luck with the book.


Sean Boyle
Strategic Planning Director
Saatchi & Saatchi (ASIA)

PS: Below, an article I penned for a magazine in Australia five years ago. Now, totally out of date, it does touch on some of your themes however.


The scourge of The Palm Pilot is upon us – the latest pile of unnecessary shite to take over the world. Oh, and look over there: a plague of shy people ‘asking' each other for a shag across a crowded bar by sending ‘discreet' WAP messages on their mobile phones and yet still, the bloody laptop takes forever to boot up. What the hell is going on?

Gordon Moore's (increasingly inaccurate) law of computers has been that every eighteen months, the power of the microchip will double and the cost of production will half. Fair enough; but I'm tellin ya, what now needs to happen is for some World Watchdog Body to declare that the entire computer-making industry takes a year out.

So, in 2001 for example, the power of the computer chip is allowed to stay the same as it is in 2000 with the cost also remaining at current levels. In return, the industry has to sort out the pathetic problems that continue to compound their hardware. Apple Macs still freeze up if you so much as say ‘Boo!' to them. Spellchecker? Can someone please put a bullet into the patronizing – sorry, patronising - SepticTank that cobbled that together? Remove all the stupid things that have coagulated inside our machines since they were invented: like that stupid jigsaw of the world and the shitty calculator that doesn't work too good and all those endless things in the systems folder that you never use. Screw-it just get rid of the system folder altogether (whatever that is). Put in some new desktop patterns – we're sick of that asinine teddy bear. And of course, start by sorting out the booting up problem – wouldn't it be great if, like for example the electric lightbulb, you switched it on and hey, on it came? Kill the glitches in Microsoft Word that make you write dates like this: 23rd August 2000-08-23. Like, y'know Hello?….I'm sorry but we're like con-soo-mers here oh-kay? Hey Gates?...'you listenin' or what?

And when the year 2001 is over, we can all get back on the faster and faster merry-go-round again. We'll have more user-friendly merchandise to restart the game. What will happen is anyone's guess.

Computer game technology will probably evolve to the point where you will be able to play for your favourite team in past AFL Grand Finals. Your ‘face' will emerge out of the tunnel; ‘commentators' will call your name as you receive the ball, you will score the winning goal and you will raise the trophy – you will in effect be rewriting the history books.

Your house will become smarter than Gaz-boy Kasparov, with kitchens that do the cooking for you, beds that tuck you in at night and washbasins that will analyse your coughed-up morning lung butter and tell you that it really is high time you gave up smoking.

Like a torpedo-struck submarine, Wwwaaaahn-Wwaaahnnn alarms are ringing in our ears – all has gone infra-red and everyone is rushing everywhere as power-jets of water start gushing into our lives swamping us utterly. Faster, faster, I need it now…I need it now…come-ON!…I need it yesterday…give it to me…oh baby...the first channel where you can wear some sorta digital monkey suit and for the “low, low price of $59.95” (the way of the copywriter will never change) you can fuck Demi Moore or Brad Pitt or both at the same time….and YOU decide how long it takes for orgasm…American Excuse?…that'll do nicely sir – and they're probably faking it anyway…and you are aware that it's all computer-animation…but y'know, there is just that je ne sais quoi coquettish look that Demi gives you every time you come here (so to speak) and maybe…just maybe…RIGHT…that's it:…You gotta find out…must know…'got to get to Hollywood and it only costs 100 bucks these days and takes just five hours and the part-planes-part rocket-ships are running on a litre and a half of water cos some space cowboy cracked hydrogen-fusion once and for all and you land, along with 700…scratch that, 1000 other passengers and you hail a flying cab cos some other boffin has cracked gravity (but to prevent mass carnage, cabs and public transport (SKYTRAINSTM) are the only vehicles allowed in the air)…and you get whisked over to Demi Moore's house only to find that she died ten years previously of a burst breast implant…and of course you had forgotten that – “oh-yeah..that's right” you say…for you still thought she was in her early thirties and raunchy and suitable stalking material…quelle domage…is Kylie still alive you wonder? Where is she living these days the little nymph?…and hmmm, come to think of it, Jason D excepting, I've never seen her with a bloke before!?

Like the speed of light, time travel theory we are moving faster and faster: so fast that we may eventually overtake ourselves and self-combust in a puff of smoke. We'll all find ourselves pathetically back trying to start a fire by rubbing two twigs together (c.f. SurvivorTM) in a freezing cave somewhere that appears very-much like what we today call Poland!

Oh how I long for the return of backgammon on a green, felt board - the soft click of ivory pieces. BattleshipsTM and Connect 4TM. and real ScrabbleTM from Spears GamesTM. The relaunch of books and while you're at it Morse TelegraphyTM?. “Any colour so long as it's black”, Solitude. Peace. The utter rejection of brands that aren't nice to me in a quiet kind of way – I need never encounter them again: a kind of consumer excommunication.
Corner shops, pipes and stoves.
Slippers and wee, knitted cosies to put over the teapot.
An afternoon in front of a crackly wireless.

Life's Good…We Can Do That…cos…It's A Sony!

2020 might just be a good year…but then again, it probably won't.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

You suffer the needle chill – you're running to stand still.


Hi, Went to your Demos talk in London. Thanks, great
stuff. Made some notes;

Your point about common architecture is something my colleague (at the BBC) Tom Coates has been grappling with and discusses here:
hope london was fun.

Matt Burton

I turned it on during the Dallas clip. It didn't take long to figure out it was you, but my first thought was, "He doesn't sound like I imagined he would..."

Joe Bartling

I stumbled onto hearing your interview this morning on NPR. I thought, "Could this be the Steven Johnson" that I have blogrolled?". When I heard you talking about the interconnectivity of the connections on Dallas, Hill Street Blues, and "24", I knew it was you! Congratulations on your new book. I will purchase one today. I am a fan and I have blogged about one of your previous books, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, .
I am happy to have you as one of 24 blogs on my blogroll.

I love your intellectual approach to things, and now I know why I like the Fox's "24" so much, and have since the first season. It's the ONE program I watch, and for a guy who lives "connected and connecting", its neat to find out why we do certain things.

Keep the good work and I wish you much success with the new book!

Joe Bartling


Hi, Heard the NPR interview this morning, great stuff!
Didn't go looking for your blog though. I clicked through a WSJ.com article that mentioned Numenta. Googled, and got a blogger who had blogrolled yours. How's that for Emergence?

Adriana Gomez

Hi Steven, I am a journalist for LA FM, an international news radio show of RCN Radio of Colombia. We broadcast every morning from monday to friday from 6:30 - 11:00 NYT. We are very interested in having a brief phone interview with you to talk about your bood "everything bad is good for you". Please let us know about your availability and if you think it is possible please contact me at my email or at my mobile in Bogota +573108029085.
Kindest Regards!!!

Mary Schultz

Hello Steven,
I'll be picking up "Everything Bad" this afternoon, and am curious to see whether David Deutsch is mentioned. Surely you know of him?

Video Games: A Unique Educational Environment

This is a slightly-modified version of a TCS interview with David Deutsch, from Taking Children Seriously, the paper journal (TCS 4, published in 1992.)

Sarah Fitz-Claridge

One in three households in America own video games. In Britain, the figure is eleven per cent. As the market here expands, more and more parents will have to face the issue. Are computer games really addictive? Is the violence and sexism damaging to children's psychological well-being? Are there risks associated with the X-ray emissions from television screens?

I went to interview David Deutsch, winner of the highly prestigious Dirac Prize for Theoretical Physics, and author of The Fabric of Reality, a best-selling book about the borderline between physics and philosophy. Many readers will have seen him on television – on anything from daytime chat shows to “Reality on the Rocks”, a television programme in which he talked about his work on the many worlds interpretation of quantum theory. You may also have read his article on the physics of time travel in the “Scientific American” in March 1994, or his wonderful commentary on Michael Lockwood's “‘Many Minds' Interpretations of Quantum Mechanics”: “Comment on Lockwood” (p. 222-228) in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science Volume 47, Number 2, June 1996, OUP. David Deutsch is also planning a book on non-coercive education which will be of great interest to TCS readers. Far from believing computer games to be harmful, David believes them to be very good for children. I asked him what is so good about computer games.


Alexandre Werneck

Dear Steven.

Again, I start to asking you apologies because I try to contact you again by this way. I sent you a message at your feedmag adress, but it returned.

Well, here is Alexandre Werneck. I'm the Brazilian journalist wich interviewed you about "emergence" last year (when the book was released here) for Jornal do Brasil (one of the most important Brazilian newspapers). So, now I would like to talk to you, of course, about "Everything bad is good for you", wich I just received. What a smart book, let me say!

So, if you could talk to me, please let me know the best way to do it. Of course I prefer to speak by phone, but if it would be better for you, I can, again, send you questions by e-mail.

I thank you a lot.

All the best.

Alexandre Werneck
Caderno B - Jornal do Brasil
avwerneck@gmail.com (for attachet files)
55-21-8763-8910 (cel phone)


ciao steven,
i had bad luck in trying to find a literary agent representing you in italy. so here i'm writing here in an uncommon manner... :) can you please tell me who manages your rights there?

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I'm a father of three boys, husband of one wife, and author of nine books, host of one television series, and co-founder of three web sites. We split our time between Brooklyn, NY and Marin County, CA. Personal correspondence should go to sbeej68 at gmail dot com. If you're interested in having me speak at an event, drop a line to Wesley Neff at the Leigh Bureau (WesN at Leighbureau dot com.)

My Books

  • Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

    Steven Johnson: How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
    A history of innovation accompanied by a 6-part TV series on PBS and the BBC, this was the first of my books to crack the top 5 on the NY Times bestseller list. Appropriately for a book that celebrates diverse networks, this was the most collaborative of any of my books. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age

    Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age
    My first book-length attempt to organize my writings about emergence and networks into something resembling a political philosophy, which I called Peer Progressivism. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

    Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
    An exploration of environments that lead to breakthrough innovation, in science, technology, business, and the arts. I conceived it as the closing book in a trilogy on innovative thinking, after Ghost Map and Invention. But in a way, it completes an investigation that runs through all the books, and laid the groundwork for How We Got To Now. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Invention of Air

    The Invention of Air
    The story of the British radical chemist Joseph Priestley, who ended up having a Zelig-like role in the American Revolution. My version of a founding fathers book, and a reminder that most of the Enlightenment was driven by open source ideals. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : The Ghost Map

    The Ghost Map
    The story of a terrifying outbreak of cholera in 1854 London 1854 that ended up changing the world. An idea book wrapped around a page-turner. I like to think of it as a sequel to Emergence if Emergence had been a disease thriller. You can see a trailer for the book here. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

    Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
    The title says it all. This one sparked a slightly insane international conversation about the state of pop culture -- and particularly games. There were more than a few dissenters, but the response was more positive than I had expected. And it got me on The Daily Show, which made it all worthwhile. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life

    Mind Wide Open : Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
    My first best-seller, and the only book I've written in which I appear as a recurring character, subjecting myself to a battery of humiliating brain scans. The last chapter on Freud and the neuroscientific model of the mind is one of my personal favorites. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

    Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
    The story of bottom-up intelligence, from slime mold to Slashdot. Most of my books sold more copies than this one, but Emergence has influenced the most eclectic mix of fields: political campaigns, web business models, urban planning, the war on terror. (Available from IndieBound here.)

  • : Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate

    Interface Culture : How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
    My first. The book I wrote instead of finishing my dissertation, predicting the growing cultural significance of interface and information design. Still relevant, I think. But I haven't read it in a while, so who knows what's in there! (Available from IndieBound here.)

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