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Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better [Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged] [MP3 CD]

Clive Thompson , Jeff Cummings , Inc. Brilliance Audio
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Book Description

Sept. 12 2013

How technology boosts our cognitive abilities—making us smarter, more productive, and more creative than ever before

It’s undeniable: technology is changing the way we think. But is it for the better? Amid a chorus of doomsayers, Clive Thompson votes yes. The Internet age has produced a radical new style of human intelligence, worthy of both celebration and investigation. We learn more and retain information longer, write and think with global audiences in mind, and even gain an ESP-like awareness of the world around us. Modern technology is making us smarter and better connected, both as individuals and as a society.

In Smarter Than You Think, Thompson documents how every technological innovation—from the printing press to the telegraph—has provoked the very same anxieties that plague us today. We panic that life will never be the same, that our attentions are eroding, that culture is being trivialized. But as in the past, we adapt, learning to use the new and retaining what’s good of the old.

Thompson introduces us to a cast of extraordinary characters who augment their minds in inventive ways. There’s the seventy-six-year-old millionaire who digitally records his every waking moment, giving him instant recall of the events and ideas of his life going back decades. There are the courageous Chinese students who mounted an online movement that shut down a $1.6 billion toxic copper plant. There are experts and there are amateurs, including a global set of gamers who took a puzzle that had baffled HIV scientists for a decade and solved it collaboratively—in only one month.

But Smarter Than You Think isn’t just about pioneers, nor is it simply concerned with the world we inhabit today. It’s about our future. How are computers improving our memory? How will our social “sixth sense” change the way we learn? Which tools are boosting our intelligence—and which ones are hindering our progress? Smarter Than You Think embraces and interrogates this transformation, offering a provocative vision of our shifting cognitive landscape.

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'Judicious and insightful ... Thompson avoids both the hype and the hand-wringing so common among digital age pontificators' Walter Isaacson, New York Times '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' Chris Anderson '[An] enjoyable study of the digital world ... both fascinating and thought-provoking ... [Thompson] remains admirably sober about the limits of technology's' edifying influence on us: technology, he reminds us, is only ever as smart as the person using it' Sunday Times 'Thompson is a talented storyteller ... The world outside ... is, on balance, much weirder than you think' The Times 'Thompson has started an important debate in this lively and accessible book' Scotsman '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' Joshua Foer, New York Times bestselling author of Moonwalking with Einstein

About the Author

Clive Thompson is a Canadian freelance journalist, blogger and science and technology writer.

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Clive Thompson poses an especially interesting question: "What would happen if, instead of competing against one another, humans and computers [begin italics] collaborated [end italics]? Which, for example, is smarter at chess? "Neither. It's the two together, working side by side." Most of us do not as yet realize that we are now playing advanced chess. "We just haven't learned to appreciate it. Our tools are everywhere, linked with or minds, working in tandem...This transformation is rippling through every part of our cognition -- how we learn, how we remember, and how we act upon that knowledge emotionally, intellectually, and politically."

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.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Oct. 13 2013
It is an intelligent, thoughtful, interesting and fascinating book. Grounded in comprehensive research. It was also very entertaining too and easy to read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  57 reviews
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some caution is required when drawing conclusions from the findings discussed in this book Aug. 28 2013
By Here I Am - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The findings discussed in this book come from a wide variety of sources, ranging from scientific studies, to observed phenomena such as people coming together to get something done quickly with the help of technologies, and to anecdotes given to the author.

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.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Anti-Shallows... Aug. 16 2013
By Joseph Ratliff - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
If you've read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (a great book in its own right), then you can consider this book on the 180-degree opposite end of the spectrum.

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."
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thesis worth considering, a book worth reading July 1 2013
By Brian W. Fairbanks - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
In his memoir, The Measure of a Man, Sidney Poitier compared his quiet childhood on Cat Island in the Bahamas with the noisy, technology driven world in which urban kids grow up today. "We put our kids through fifteen years of quick-cut advertising, passive television watching, and sadistic video games, and we expect to see emerge a new generation of calm, compassionate, and engaged human beings?"

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
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can technology really make us smarter? July 11 2013
By Nancy Loderick - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Clive Thompson has presented some interesting facts to back up his claim that technology can make us smarter. I couldn't stop reading this book.

Why I enjoyed this book:

* Clive's example of how chess masters use computers to help them play better. It's not man vs. machine, but man using machine.

* The study of crowd sourcing for puzzle solving. I never understood the popularity of video games, but learning that there are lots of keys to unlock within the games helps me understand the popularity. Clive talks about the numerous online forums and groups that share gaming secrets.

* How technology is engaging students. I loved reading about how students now think math is fun. They have the equivalent of a one-on-one tutor and can really progress.

* The example of how college students actually write better than they used to. This example was about Stanford College students, so I'm not sure this can apply to every student, but it was still interesting. These students wrote longer and more complex essays than students did 20 years ago.

* The reiteration that technology is a tool; nothing more and nothing less. We can't multi-process and pay equal attention to each task.

All that being said, I really wonder about those folks, called lifeloggers, who are documenting every single aspect of their lives. Are they really enjoying life to the fullest? Are they appreciating every moment? I doubt it.

I also wonder how technology is affecting the average person. Everywhere I look, I see people hunched over and glued to their smart phones. No one is having a face-to-face conversation anymore. I think technology is making some people smarter, but not everyone.

Still, this is an interesting and thought-provoking book and I recommend it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as Smart as You Think, But Not as Dumb Either July 6 2013
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
As the internet becomes more and more ubiquitous and takes over our lives, we have warnings in the likes of Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, who argues that our social media has become an unhealthy obsession resulting in narcissism and disconnectedness; we have Nichols Carr, author of The Shallows, who argues that our internet multitasking has degraded our IQ, truncated our attention span and made us superficial ADD humanoids.

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.
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