Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying—which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements—books are simply a barren string of words on the page. . . .And to think we've been advocating reading for so long! How could we have been so muddle-headed and mistaken?
Books are also tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. . . .
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. . . .
This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one.
Relax booklovers! The extract from Steven Berlin Johnson's book
Everything Bad is Good for You above is intended as an "imagined rendition of what some pompous, self-satisfied gamer would say about books had he never actually sat down and read one." His book argues the case that all those elements of popular culture (e.g video games, television) that are generally assumed to be bad for us are in fact making us smarter.
Now if you were taken in by the extract, you're not alone. When this piece appeared in a New York Times review, Johnson received "innumerable confused responses" from readers unclear on the idea of satire. One wonders if they've been playing too many computer games!