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Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes In The Age Of The Machine (William Patrick Book) Paperback – April 21, 1994

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A thoughtful critique of "machine-centered" corporate technology from the author of The Design of Everyday Things .
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

By virtue of their design, machines shape the way we relate to the world. Moreover--as anyone who has been annoyed by voice message systems can testify--many technological "advances" that are efficient from the engineering point of view are of dubious value to those who must use them. In this highly readable book, Norman, author of Turn Signals Are the Facial Expres sions of Automobiles (Addison-Wesley, 1992), offers an intriguing look at the nature and characteristics of human intelligence. He argues that it is time for us to adopt a more human-centered perspective and to insist that informational technologies enhance and complement human cognitive capacities rather than undermine them. Entertaining anecdotes, puzzles, graphics, and speculations regarding future possibilities flesh out this wise and witty book. Recommended for academic and public libraries. --Elise Chase, Forbes Lib., Northampton, Mass.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: William Patrick Book
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Revised ed. edition (April 21, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201626950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201626957
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #774,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Rocap on July 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
What if we put aside worrying about how computers will replace human thought and behavior and focused, instead, on the fundamental differences and complementary strengths of humans and machines? Perhaps then we could make best use of the things that have the potential to make us smart. Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things, takes the insights he is famous for, regarding the design of everyday objects, and turns these towards a thoughtful consideration of the high tech objects in our lives.
Norman contends that what machines are best at are memorization and calculation, and that part of our fears about them come from comparing ourselves mentally to computers with regard to these dimensions. This is a fundamentally flawed way to think about the relationships between humans and computers.
He encourages us, instead, to optimize the powerful potential of computation in order to liberate ourselves for more important ends, such as the time and capacity for deep reflective thought. In this way, and in other ways, he advocates for a human-centered approach to technology.
Humans make tools and build objects, or artifacts; and the artifacts we build help to make us smart. They remind us of important things and when designed well help us accomplish important things and provide "affordances" for desired behaviors and outcomes.
We need to develop better and keener senses of design. With regard to computers, the more we can unload, the more conceptual knowledge that we can convert into "experiential" knowledge through the use of such things as powerful computer-based data representations, the more we will free ourselves for higher order reflective thought and human judgment.
Norman convincingly argues that rather than locking ourselves in a battle of turf with machines, we should take advantage of the ways machines, like other human-designed objects, can, indeed, help to make us smart.
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Format: Paperback
Technology can make us smart. Or stupid. It can liberate. Or enslave. Norman joins a select group of thinkers advocating a human-centered approach to technology. Inspired (or, more accurately, depressed) by Jerry Mander, he wrote this book to examine the differences between humans and machines, and to establish some ground rules for policy that protected the one and leveraged the other. Norman notes that when technology is not designed from a human-centered point of view, it produces accidents and more often than not the human is blamed. He focuses especially on the distinction between experiential cognition and reflective cognition, and laments that television and entertainment are swamping us with the experiential and not teaching us the reflective. He is concerned that our ever-lengthening chain of technology dependence is forcing us to deal with ever-increasing loads of information at the same time that it weakens our inherent capabilities further. People first, science second, technology as servant.
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Format: Paperback
In this book, Donald Norman offers a thoughtful examination of the tools, toys and games that we interact with every day. According to Norman these "things that make us smart can also make us dumb." It is the way that we use and interact with these "things" that will determine their effect on our intelligence. Not only does this text offer a comprehensive history of technology tools, but it also examines the evolution of human thought and cognition.
Like Alan Cooper, Norman examines "what is wrong in the design of the technology that requires people to behave in machine-centered ways for which people are not well suited." Norman, however, does not concentrate on the negatives of software design. He presents a look at how we have evolved into our current state in order to make predictions and recommendations about how to proceed into the future.
Norman's study of experiential and reflective cognition should be required reading for any teacher. The study could help both new and veteran users of educational technologies make appropriate choices for the use of different software for different learning opportunities. The section on "optimal flow" is useful for educators, software or game designers and cognitive scientists. Doesn't everybody strive for a "continual flow of focused concentration?"
In his study of the human mind and distributed cognition, Norman examines some of the differences between humans and other species. One of the key distinctions for me was that humans can create tools to help them "overcome the limitations of brainpower." This is where he makes the connection to how things can make us smart. The philosophical nature of this section of the book was very interesting and useful for me.
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Format: Paperback
This book is easy to read - and should open most peoples eyes a bit more...
It describes how we (mankind) uses external representations to assist our brains - from writing, to diagrams, to maps, to the way we build our offices.
If you want a deeper psychological understanding with which you can do your own reasoning on different types of external representation - get this book. If you want clear-cut guidelines - get another book.
If you like this book - try Normans: The Design of Everydaythings as well. You might like Donald Schöns The Reflective Practitioner also.
Last word: Norman seems to prefer easy reading to structure - which means the book is best read end-to-end.
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