Customer Reviews

68
4.4 out of 5 stars
Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better
Format: HardcoverChange
Price:$19.26 + Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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."
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
77 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book provides an extremely readable overview of new technology's positive societal impact. Thompson's optimism about technology is carefully tempered: he does not hesitate to acknowledge, and often agree with, the potential problems raised by critics. As a technology skeptic myself, I found his book to be a valuable challenge to my thinking. As other reviewers have noted, this is a work of journalism, not science: compelling anecdotes generally take the place of hard data (though several studies are cited). But while the book does not "prove" technology's positive effects (nor attempt to do so), it is provocative nonetheless, and a valuable antidote to the chorus of critics warning that technology will ruin our brains etc. As Thompson notes, no one knows for certain how the newest technologies will affect society in the long-term. But he presents a compelling case for optimism.

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.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 15, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is interesting, well written and apparently well researched. However, I don't think it's about exactly what the title suggests, which increases the chance that a reader would be disappointed. Thompson provides this caveat early on: "If you were hoping to read about the neuroscience of our brains and how technology is 'rewiring' them, this volume will disappoint you." Fair enough. Except that the subtitle says "CHANGING our minds" and he actually writes mostly about how technology changes the way we USE our minds. Subtle difference, and he has plenty to say that's worth reading, but I actually would have been interested in reading about the neuroscience.

He's got lots of great points (mild spoiler alert?) For example, people typically write more than they did before, which can clarify thought process - and for an audience, which has its own positive impacts. Or that the internet can facilitate innovation because people can be more aware of what others are learning. If you'd want to hear these and similar ideas fleshed out, you'd enjoy the book.

I was interested to see if Smarter could change my firm belief in limiting the use of technology, and employing it judiciously and selectively, for the sake of cognitive and social development. I learned a lot about its positive side effects - which were interesting if not surprising. The author was perhaps a bit dismissive of concerns about "rewiring," essentially because it's complicated and we don't understand it yet. (Which for me IS a reason to be at least moderately cautious.) In the end my position was bolstered: The author expresses his own concern over distraction from technology, saying that "constantly switching between tasks is ruinous to our attention and focus," arguing for deliberate breaks away from digital devices. He mentioned that digital tools don't match well with the hands-on way young children learn. There are plenty of smart ways to use technology that foster creativity, cognitive skills, and social lives; Thompson provides plenty of benefits to weight against potential drawbacks of having technology embedded in our culure.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I bought this as a gift and my daughter loved it so much, I read it myself. Everyone in the family wants to read it now. It was even great beach reading! I learned a tremendous amount about technology. I came to understand why the younger people in my office have a different attitude toward meetings. I got ideas for my teaching. I was amazed at some of the inventions I'd never heard of before. Although I was initially skeptical of the premise, Thompson makes a good case for how technology can make us more social and--well--smarter.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 12, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I usually try to read a book in 2 days, but this one took me more like a week. Not because it was boring or hard to wade through but because I was really trying to absorb as much information as possible, and I sometimes found myself pausing to just think or maybe to google something. In fact, after reading the author's explanation of Kindle annotations, I was wishing I had the book to read on a kindle instead of the physical book, which is pretty much a first for me.

Because I had this book with me for a week, I encountered plenty of people asking me "what are you reading?" Trying to sum up the book in a sentence or two, I was usually met with a lot of skepticism. "Oh yeah, sure...technology is good for us...yeah, right, it's not turning our brains into mush, tell me another good one!" but for myself, I feel like Clive Thompson is talking about things that I myself have been believing, feeling and experiencing and he is then expanding on them. Like your really savvy friend who answers your eureka moment with "Yes! AND...you can also...and don't forget about this...and how cool is this other thing???" Which I think is the best kind of friend to have. Actually, I think he should be friends with Bob from the book "First International Bank of Bob". Those guys would be a power friendship team and should have their own radio show or something.

I often try and think who I'd recommend a book to when reading it, and this one I think I'd recommend to my mother. She's someone who's been using computers since about 1980, but she just doesn't seem to "get" the syntax of search engines and recently, in frustration, said "I hate computers!" She also works at a library but as someone who shelves books, not someone who helps you find information and I thought about that when reading a bit in this book about the invention of the library and librarians needing the skills to know how to find the needed information - including these days how to navigate around the Internet. (I'm paraphrasing because I don't have the kindle version of the book and as many pages as I dog-eared I can't find that part.) I think she'd find the book interesting but would probably say, "I still hate computers, though."

Ultimately, this book is a mostly very hopeful look at technology and how humans interact with it as it stands at this moment, with a lot of logical talk about new ways of recording and disseminating data that have arisen in the past (the written word, radio, the telegraph, tv) and a very small amount of looking toward the future. I've read other books that talk about what Socrates said about the written word and what someone else said disparaging the telephone, etc, but this book is very timely so it's like getting the new, updated version of an older book, with loads more detail about what is going on RIGHT NOW. If you're interested in this book, I recommend you get it and put it at the top of your reading pile, so it's still timely when you get around to reading it.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Old man review. Read at your own risk.

As you get older, the illusion is that time goes by faster. The theory, I think, is that the segment that is passing --- the hour, day, or week --- is a smaller and smaller fraction of the hours, days, etc. that you have lived. Your time is being used up and you only have a smaller fraction of what you had. At the ripe old age of sixty-five, this dynamic has certainly kicked in for me.

Time seems to be passing by way too fast; I have too little of it left to assimilate everything that I need to or want to. I am like a computer you buy, utilize, fill up, and that eventually begins to be too full, inadequate in capacity and speed, freezing up, and crashing. Furthermore, keeping up with the pace of technology seems to have a similar dynamic: I can't keep up and at times I don't want to even try keeping up. Therefore, going into reading this book, SMARTER THAN YOU THINK: HOW TECHNOLOGY IS CHANGING OUR MINDS FOR THE BETTER, I thought that technology wasn't necessarily changing my mind for the better. I didn't have adequate time and, perhaps, the ability for it to do so. For example, I haven't adopted to cell phones and such e-devices as readily or as rapidly as many of my friends, neighbors and relatives, often to my detriment, but more often to my delight and my contemporaries' chagrin.

But I think Clive Thompson makes some astute observations and plausible explanations for why he believes technology changes our minds for the better. I, of course, enjoyed reading the various histories in the evolution of innovation that he tells about and about humankind's continuing reluctances through the years and now to accept change. I also enjoyed reading about new innovations, innovators, and conceptions of human intelligence, etc. What a delight! How overwhelming! I did enjoy the read, and as I perused and contemplated what I had read I did realize that I do incorporate innovation, even in old age, into my life to make things easier. For example, I'm utilizing voice dictation software in order to write this because it has become more and more painful and irritating to type things out because of arthritis.

I am not, however, convinced that we retain our learning longer than we used to. However, learning is much more accessible in our era than ever before and that is the dynamic that has been changing and seems to be continuing to change. I like it that I can have access to information now that I could never have access to so readily in earlier periods of my lifetime.

Some change, however, is quite scary. I think of the contemporary crises involving data collection by the NSA, for example. Doesn't it have a tendency to put into jeopardy all notions of privacy that we might have? Furthermore, without a clean and clear commitment of mind to the whole enterprise of technology, it is all for naught. People become addicted to mindlessness: playing perhaps entertaining games and watching and being stimulated by videos and whatnot in an addictive manner that doesn't necessarily improve the mind or the quality of living but wastes it away. So, the caveat is always it only works to better your mind if you apply yourself in a responsible way.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (Paperback - June 6, 2011)
$10.49

It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd (Paperback - February 24, 2015)
$11.02

 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.

Your Recently Viewed Items and Featured Recommendations 
 

After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in.