Steven Johnson (author)

Steven Berlin Johnson ( born June 6 1968) is an American popular science author. He has worked as a columnist for Discover Magazine, Slate, Wired and other magazines. He is an accomplished Writer In Residence at New York University.


He has published several books that trace the social and sociological developments and meanings of technical development.

  • Interface Culture. How new technologies creativity and communication change ( Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create And Communicate ) (1997 )
  • Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software (2001)
  • Mind Wide Open: Your Brain And The Neuroscience Of Everyday Life (2004)
  • The new intelligence. Why do we become more intelligent by computer games and TV ( Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter ) (2005 )
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London 's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World (2006)
  • The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America (2008)
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (2010) ISBN 978-1594487712. German by Michael Pfingstl: Where good ideas come from. A brief history of innovation. Scoventa Verlag, Bad Vilbel, 2013, ISBN 978-3-942073-10-3.

Interface Culture (1997)

In his account of the technical developments in computing succeeds Johnson to capture the changes in culture, cultural perception and reality perception and to make palpable. It combines historical anecdotes and stories with depth and profound conclusions.

His descriptions and anecdotes, for example, on the development of the computer mouse are associated with his observations on the modified handling of objects and the resulting cognitive " rewiring " and offer the reader by an understanding of processes and developments in the cultural dealing with objects, which this hardly aware is. The principle of the interweaving of history and interpretation runs consistently and easily through all the chapters, which are devoted to the internet, user interfaces, and other computer areas.

Computer world and cultural development no longer available after the reading as an independent terms over, but have penetrated each other.

Emergence (2001)

" Emergence is what occurs when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts ," Johnson summed up the core idea of the book together in an interview. With his book, Johnson invents the phenomenon is not new, but deals with the varied manifestations, their implications and consequences. As examples of the emergence of complexity due to the interaction of numerous items Johnson refers to ants, the human brain, the emergence of cities and software. In all cases, the items have a - in comparison to the overall system - simple control system of decision-making and interaction that takes place to a new quality by the quantity of the items. An adaptive learning, self- organization, swarm intelligence are some of the keywords that are often used in this context.

The intelligence or complexity arises solely by the amount of items that " act locally, act globally " that due to the sheer number of triggers - this is true for human cells that develop due to the DNA rules as well as for ants, the pheromone of the follow signals of their own kind. The control system function according to the modern online platforms like Amazon or or computer games like SimCity, is relatively primitive; arises from seemingly intelligent behavior or know about only by the amount of users. Emergence is no development provided hierarchically from top to bottom, but which is held on the lower level, and the quantity obtained by a higher level.

Four conditions for the emergence of emergence Johnson treated in detail. Meet The ability to pattern recognition, such as what conspecifics an ant or what items someone buys from Amazon, is essential and can be called " learning from your neighbors " are understood. To succeed, the items must be able to enter and process feedback. The term " neighbor " refers to the third condition, that all items on the same level ( "street level" ) must be located, so there must be no hierarchy between them. Emergence arises through the constant interaction of many parts; to influence the result would be only about a change in the rules by which act the items possible.

Mind Wide Open (2004)

How does the brain, such as behaviors are influential, what happens below the own consciousness? These and accompanying questions explored Johnson during the trip in the neural areas. The book is designed as a personal story that connects many study options and modern insights into various stations. Generalities such as adrenaline level or references to operations at the biochemical level are placed in a context and presented in the diversity of their modes of action.

In the usual high popular science level that portrays always detail clearly and factually correct, MindWideOpen via formative events, jokes - telling and understanding or recognition tests to insights about the brain that connects many components to Johnson's understanding of how a good orchestra. Only in the interplay between the individual elements arise thinking and feeling. While studies are mostly focused on one area, Johnson manages the remuneration of areas with each other and provides a post- Freudian insight into the human psyche.

New intelligence (2005)

Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You appeared on German as New intelligence and assumes that modern technologies have positive effects, which are hidden in the usual debate often. The American culture scientist explains, television and computer games seem not as verblödend and antisocial, as is often claimed.

Johnson examined older and younger television broadcasts, noting that ER, Seinfeld or The Sopranos to the public demand a mental performance - many plot threads to be pursued in parallel, to set related to each other and to open widely branched reference systems. Reality TV teaches social skills, since it offensive to prompt you to deal emotionally and solution oriented with the situations. " Even the crap has gotten better " - with this conclusion he rehabilitated as comparative observers derided the television program.

In the computer games he considers the successful genres - and therefore leaves the infamous killer games on the sidelines. Johnson to convey even non-gamers the fascination of the game worlds and to analyze the strategies succeed. Just as books are capable computer games, the users to draw into their world as well as emotionally and intellectually captivate - and promote. This is not a book to read, but the invitation to examine seemingly "lower cultural goods " only before they are condemned.

The Ghost Map (2006)

Johnson reconstructed in detail the cholera epidemic in 1854 in London. The book is divided into chapters, each describing a day and doing the descriptions of individual destinies, different aspects of society, science and developments include (this process called Johnson himself as " Deep Structure" ). The coexistence in the new ( fast growing ) city London, which is dedicated the first chapter, brought new challenges, with Johnson later important areas water supply and sanitation and waste disposal takes as essential factors in the focus. Only the solution of these problems prevented the later emergence of similar epidemics, as demonstrated by numerous examples.

The Johnson historically most important element is that for the first time at an epidemic measures were taken, which were justified by rational analysis: The lever of the pump, was distributed over the cholera - contaminated water has been removed. Following the ideology, the authorities saw the cholera spread through the air and not on the water, as it could prove John Snow. Johnson admits Snow's investigations, conclusions and conviction services a wide area and also provides numerous individuals and their mandate in detail that made Snow's findings only.

The reference to pandemics Johnson suggests in the last chapter the bow to modern times. During an event like 9/ 11 is a high sacrifice ratio demanded, but is limited in time, would have spread much more devastating pandemics because of their consequences. In particular, the coexistence of many people in a small space (keyword city ) would cause in two cases, high numbers of casualties, but be disastrous in the event of a pandemic, as the infection numbers increase exponentially.

The Invention of Air ( 2008)

The little-known today polymath Joseph Priestley is at the center. Johnson chronologically follows the life of Priestley, which is embedded in the representation of English culture. The " near- discovery " of oxygen, the founding of modern chemistry, the enthusiastic interest in the electricity let Priestley one of the most important scientists of his time. The radical thinkers, convinced optimist, chaotic experimenters and analysts estimated published many papers on scientific, social and political issues.

Due to some unfortunate and ill-considered formulations Priestley saw his life seriously threatened and fled with his family from England to the very young United States. With Benjamin Franklin, a deep friendship had already joined him in England. In the U.S., he had close contact with the other two founding fathers: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. In correspondence of these two Priestley is the main protagonist, both contact detail apart with his positions and views.

Johnson argues that neither this exchange of letters between the two U.S. presidents nor the relationship between the three founding fathers can be understood if one knows not Priestley's life, works and thought. In his portrayal of a man's life - Johnson embeds the story of the emergence of new ideas, paradigms, patterns of thinking, spiritual achievements. This - as Johnson's argument - need a particular social, political, scientific backdrop to act as they did. Therefore, they can only be identified retrospectively when " zoomed out " and narrows the view not only of a topic.

For the purposes of the New Historicism Johnson's sixth book is a historical narrative that tells of the emergence and influence of scientific ideas.

Where good Ideas come from - The natural History of Innovation ( 2010)

Starting from Charles Darwin's observation of the coral reef ecosystem attracts as Johnson connections to intellectual productivity of today's large cities and the rapid success of projects such as YouTube. The main question is, what environments promote and advance new ideas and developments. Seven core principles examined Johnson by way of examples throughout nature, science and human history:

In his conclusion Johnson notes that the vast majority of the most important 200 inventions originated in nicht-kommerziellen/vernetzten contexts. From this he derives a skepticism about the patent system and criticized the dogma that free ( capitalist ) market is the most appropriate environment for innovation.


Johnson's writing style can be described literally as popular science. He combines vivid writing with factually correct representations, without neglecting the one in favor of the other. His books are therefore seen as compilations and general surveys to begin a field of knowledge. The performance Johnsons is less in the creation of new facts than in the uncovering of compounds in the weighting of facts and in translating the technical problems and expression have to accessible texts that have a narrative structure.

As indicated by the subtitle of his books from 2006 and 2008, Johnson provides no scientific dispute, but a story, a narrative. These stories revolve each focused to a few people and are in the 18-19. Century settled. They live on the detailed links between science, culture, politics and other factors. The view is not so much focused on the dramatic dimension, but leaves certain cultural developments, scientific discoveries, or political decisions of the braid numerous factors are identifiable and traceable.

Web projects

1995 Steven Johnson was a co-founder of the early Webzine Feed Magazine.

Johnson has launched a new web service called Outside.In. Its aim is also virtually map the dense regional and local linkages and use. Less considerable media village will be built, but rather actual neighborhoods there. For this he uses the term " hyperlocal ".