Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson

Smarter Than You Think

“The past turns out to be oddly reassuring, because a pattern emerges. Each time we’re faced with bewildering new thinking tools, we panic – then quickly set about deducing how they can be used to help us work, meditate, and create.”

If you’re wondering what’s going on with that picture up there, it’s that I got this book from the library and I was enjoying it so much that I went and bought my own copy at B&N. Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson is really fascinating, and I wanted my own copy to highlight and go back to skim through again.

Basically, this book is a response to the Franzens of the world who claim that all the new technology – cell phones, the Internet, social media, etc. – are dumbing us down and leading to the end of humanity as we know it. What Thompson does is take a look at history to point out that while it does change us, it’s not the end of anything. That these new things are tools, and it’s all up to how we use them. Thompson is a journalist and has written about technology for both The New York Times and Wired. While he may be a biased towards technology, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a very good point. His arguments in this book well laid out – the chapters flow into one another easily, and it’s a really engaging read.

I learned a lot of cool things in Smarter Than You Think, including how Stalin (and Putin) used photomanipulation as a political tool, how schools are trying to use technology is really unique ways, how technology isn’t ruining our memory, and how it’s changed activism and political protests. (He has 34 pages of notes and citations in the back of the book, to show his sources on these things.) He talks about the wonders of us being more connected to people all around the world, how amazing it is to be able to hop online and talk to other people about all the weird, random interests we have (book bloggers, WHAT UP), and how much more knowledge and perspective we’re all exposed to as a result. He talks about how rare it was, before the internet, that the average person ever wrote anything longer than a paragraph, unless it was for work. Now the average person writes at least a paragraph a day online, if not more. And he’s realistic – he points out again and again that technology is only beneficial if we’re using it properly. Of course it’s a distraction, if you’re not being aware of how it’s affecting you. And of course small children shouldn’t be staring at screens – it’s not good for their development. But used intelligently, the pros of technology easily outweigh the cons.

This is one of those non-fiction books that was REALLY interesting, and that I highly recommend reading in the next year or so – you know, while it’s all still relevant. Technology DOES tend to change almost over night. And if you’re still on the fence, listen to episode thirteen of the You Are Not So Smart podcast – Thompson is a guest on that episode, and listening to him talk a bit about his book and technology made me really curious to see seek out the book. I’m glad I did.

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

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12 comments

  1. Going out to buy a copy in the middle of a book is a HUGE endorsement! I’m pushing for my book club to read this next (I always like non-fiction every one in a while, because it seems to be a good way to get discussion going), but if not I’ll definitely be picking it up myself.

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    1. Riv, you should totally read it! It was super interesting, and I read it pretty quickly. And it just made me all sorts of happy and appreciative for technology (although I admit, I feel that way whenever I think about how awesome blogging or, or being able to tweet with authors.)

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  2. I’ve been looking forward to hearing your review of this when I saw it on your to-read pile. Off to request it at the library now!

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