Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better MP3 CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
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The New York Times Book Review:
“[A] judicious and insightful book on human and machine intelligence.”
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings:
“Clive Thompson—one of the finest technology writers I know…makes a powerful and rigorously thought out counterpoint… Thompson is nothing if not a dimensional thinker with extraordinary sensitivity to the complexities of cultural phenomena. Rather than revisiting painfully familiar and trite-by-overuse notions like distraction and information overload, he examines the deeper dynamics of how these new tools are affecting the way we make sense of the world and of ourselves. Smarter Than You Think is excellent and necessary in its entirety.”
New York Magazine:
"It’s straw men everywhere in this debate. Mercifully, Thompson always works from data, not straw."
Los Angeles Times:
“Thompson… a lively thinker… is well-versed in media and technological history, revisiting some of the field's most valuable case studies… His intellectual posture is one of informed optimism.”
“A well-framed celebration of how the digital world will make us bigger, rather than diminish us.”
“[An] optimistic, fast-paced tale about the advent of technology and its influence on humans.”
Joshua Foer, New York Times bestselling author of Moonwalking with Einstein:
"We should be grateful to have such a clear-eyed and lucid interpreter of our changing technological culture as Clive Thompson. Smarter Than You Think is an important, insightful book about who we are, and who we are becoming."
Chris Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Makers, Free, and The Long Tail:
"Almost without noticing it, the Internet has become our intellectual exoskeleton. Rather than just observing this evolution, Clive Thompson takes us to the people, places and technologies driving it, bringing deep reporting, storytelling and analysis to one of the most profound shifts in human history."
Jane McGonigal, Ph.D., Author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World:
"There's good news in this dazzling book: Technology is not the enemy. Smarter Than You Think reports on how the digital world has helped individuals harness a powerful, collaborative intelligence—becoming better problem-solvers and more creative human beings."
Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus:
"Thompson declares a winner in the cognitive fight between human and computers: both together. Smarter Than You Think is an eye-opening exploration of the ways computers think better with humans attached, and vice-versa." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Clive Thompson is a Canadian freelance journalist, blogger and science and technology writer.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Thompson examines three "shifts" that involve infinite memory, dot connecting, and explosive publishing, shifts that are evolving into the future of thought. In fact, he suggests, parts of that future have already arrived and quotes William Gibson: "The future is already here -- it's just not evenly distributed." That said, Thompson adds, "we'll be on firmer ground if we stick to what's observably happening in the world around us: our cognitive behavior, the quality of our cultural production, and the social science that tries to measure what we do in everyday life.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
While many of the findings indicate that technology does have positive and useful roles to play in people's lives, in some cases, it's not clear to me whether we can categorically assert that technology has made someone smarter.
Take, for example, the observation that with the rise of software that can play chess with humans, and the increased opportunities for humans to gain chess playing knowledge and experience by playing against such software opponents, the age at which chess players are able to attain grandmastership status has also come down as well. Can we categorically conclude from such a finding that competing against chess-playing software has a causal relationship to making someone a smarter chess player sooner, as evidenced by the younger ages of recently minted grandmasters (compared to the ages of grandmasters from decades ago)? It seems to me there could be alternative explanations for such a finding.
Or take the findings that technology can help improve our memory (i.e., remember things more readily or for a longer time). While the ability to remember things is important to our ability to reason about things, memory improvements do not equate to, nor necessarily lead to, improvements in reasoning ability.
Some of the findings discussed in this book do show, however, that well-designed computer games, for example, can be used effectively to hone children's reasoning abilities, at least with respect to some domains, as evidenced by test score differences.
Overall, I think this book is worth considering. The author rambles on and digresses every now and then, and some of the evidence marshalled to support the book's main thesis (that technology is making us smarter) can be rather weak, but for the most part, the findings discussed in this book are interesting.
This book by Clive Thompson investigates technology from the standpoint of the positive aspects as it applies to your life and mind.
And I have to say, both books present their case well. I thoroughly enjoyed Clive's engaging writing style (Nicholas is more "academic"). He even mixes a little humor into the book.
If you're interested in the "effects of technology on the mind" I highly recommend this book.
Why not 5 stars?
I think the author could have backed up his case a little bit better by approaching the book in a more academic way, while sticking to his engaging writing style. Not that this book lacks research by any means, it just could have been less "RAH RAH, technology" and more "this is exactly why what I'm saying is proven."
In Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson acknowledges that argument. "Some people panic that our brains are being deformed on a physiological level by today's technology," he writes. At the same time, he believes that the concern that technology is rewiring our brains is premature and that "it is rash to draw conclusions, either apocalyptic or utopian."
The author does not concern himself with the way our brains are possibly being "rewired" ("Almost everything rewires it, including this book"), but instead focuses on how our intellects are being improved when our brains work in tandem with technology.
Our memories, faultier than we like to believe, are strengthened by technology's ability to record events through video, email, texts, and with cell phone cameras and recording devices. It's easier than ever to preserve the past. As Thompson writes, "in 1981, a gigabyte of memory cost roughly three hundred thousand dollars, but now it can be had for pennies."
Some of the people interviewed are so obsessive about recording as much as possible that they are called "lifeloggers." One wonders, certainly I do, if all this recording for future reference hinders the ability to fully experience life in the present?
In Thompson's view, the present is preferable to the past whose glories are more imagined than real. Before the Internet, the average person only wrote as a requirement in the classroom. Now there are blogs, discussion boards, fan fiction, emails, texts - Amazon customer reviews like this one - "a foaming Niagara of writing." It may be "an ocean of dreck, dotted sporadically by islands of genius," but he agrees with Theodore Sturgeon's observation that "Ninety percent of everything is crap." Regardless of its quality, all this writing "can help clarify our thinking."
Technology is not only changing traditional reading and writing, but creating new forms of literacy. Everything from movies and television to politics is changing, often for the better. In the past, moving images moved too fast for careful analysis. Now anyone can pause video, scan it frame-by-frame, re-edit the contents and post it online. "No sooner does a politician make an appearance on television than political junkies and activists have scanned in the video, uploaded it, clipped out statements, and begun debating what was said."
Technology is also helping to create social change as people connect with each other online and organize for action.
The possibilities are endless, and Thompson believes that they have yet to be tapped. "We're not thinking big enough, or weird enough. A tool's most transformative uses generally take us by surprise."
That may be the problem. How will all this technology be used to threaten our freedom and ability to think and make decisions for ourselves especially if someone "weird enough" is at the switch? Thompson acknowledges the dangers. "Like all new tools," he writes," we'll also have to negotiate how not to use it."
I don't know if all this technology is really making us Smarter Than You Think, but Thompson argues convincingly in favor of his thesis and even a skeptic like myself believes it is worth considering.
Brian W. Fairbanks
But Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For the Better has entered the fray to settle our fears and to explain how technology and the internet will not sodden our brains with overloaded superficiality but propel us into a new era in which we become stronger than before.
Thompson uses the analogy of us using internet tools to famous chess players aiding their game with a computer, playing "advanced chess," which pushes them past their limits.
Thompson reminds us that every new technology has been greeted by doomsday prophets. He writes: "With every innovation, cultural prophets bickered over whether we were facing a technological apocalypse or a utopia."
Thompson embraces the latter position, arguing that our new arsenal of digital tools allows us to forget and thus free our brains for higher thinking; that these tools encourage us to make our thoughts public and makes us better writers, sharper thinkers, hungrier for a bigger audience; our tools allow us to engage in analysis unlike ever before and he uses the example of The Daily Show which, among other things, catches politicians in hypocrisy by using technology to erect a "nine-foot-tall rack of hard-disk recorders and monitors that pick up broadcasts on oodles of stations all day long, for later scrutiny." Further, we now use technology in the classroom to imitate one-on-one tutorials as students can go as fast, or slow, as their skills allow.
Thompson's arguments are engaging and well illustrated and he at times addresses some of the drawbacks of modern technology: drowning in a sea of vapidity and narcissism, for example. But by and large Thompson is a cheerleader for the digital age, arguing that it will make us smarter and more connected.
For the most part his arguments are convincing, but I have to balk at his eagerness to use best case scenarios as opposed to real case scenarios. For example, the affluent high school in Los Altos, he refers to, is indeed a shining example of technology used at its best, but more often than not digital tools are not utilized the way Thompson celebrates and too often we waste too much time in vapidity and illiterate conversation as we slog through this great technology. In other words, Thompson's book is a great blueprint about how smart we could become if things happened in the ideal sense, but "on the ground" as it were, the digital revolution is, for now anyway, not connecting and empowering us as powerfully as Thompson argues. On the other hand, its potential for making us smarter and more connected is well argued and is an excellent counterpoint to the doomsday books by Turkle and Carr.
It is also important to recognize that in spite of the title ("Changing Our Minds"), the book is about technology's effects on society, not our brains. Each chapter analyzes a broad technological shift and its consequences:
--Cheap, effectively infinite digital memory (video, audio, text, etc)
--"Thinking out loud" on the internet, and the resulting informal collaborations (reading and posting to a forum devoted to your hobby, for example)
--"New literacies": an increasing public sophistication in interpreting video and photography (note the difficulties companies and governments have nowadays in presenting doctored photos)
--The ability to instantaneously search for certain kinds of information
--Collaborative "puzzle solving," whereby complex problems are solved in informal teams linked online
--The broad awareness of what everyone else is thinking, cultivated by tools like Twitter
I found many of Thompson's arguments surprising. For example, evidence does not support the recurring claim that the internet leads to greater political isolation--conservatives only reading other conservatives, liberals other liberals. Thompson also wisely highlights the many similar occasions when a major technological shift has inspired similar warnings of society's collapse, none of which has come true. Skepticism of technological change is an easy way to seem sophisticated--"above it all"--but needs to be carefully grounded.
The book's weaknesses were twofold: organization and style. While the individual anecdotes and studies cited were compelling, I found the larger chapters blurred together, and I had to look back repeatedly to recall the larger point of each one. The style was also too breezy for my (admittedly scholarly) taste, with liberal use of slang. But overall, I would recommend this book, especially for the open-minded skeptic of technology.