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Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better Hardcover – September 12, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this excursion into techno-optimism, Thompson discusses computerized, interconnected social activity. Relying on journalism’s staple of the human-interest story, he describes individuals’ experiences of exploring the Internet in pursuit of their interests. In Thompson’s examples, those pursuits range from retrieving a personal memory to critiquing TV shows to finding a house for sale to researching proteins to organizing political movements. The commonalities Thompson finds among all those searches are prodigious data storage-and-retrieval capacities and the latent presence in cyberspace of someone interested in what you’re interested in. Connecting interest with information animates Thompson’s many anecdotes, whose motif of the delight felt by strangers or long-lost friends upon discovering a mutual concern propels his belief that Twitter, Facebook, and social-media sites built by amateurs positively motivate people to think and write better. To criticisms that social media degrade or isolate people, Thompson ripostes with studies or classroom examples that show improvements in learning and the creation of collaborative groups. A lively presenter with a sunny outlook, Thompson will engage readers drawn to the sociology of technology. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

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.”

Kirkus Reviews:
“A well-framed celebration of how the digital world will make us bigger, rather than diminish us.”

Publishers Weekly
“[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 MakersFree, 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."
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press (September 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594204454
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204456
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Joseph Ratliff VINE VOICE on August 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine 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."
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Format: Hardcover Vine 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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine 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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine 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.
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