November 9th, 2013

Book Review: Smarter Than You Think

This book is the antithesis to The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brainsby Nicolas Carr. In The Shallows (link to my review of the book), Carr tells us how the internet is ruining our brains. In Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the BetterClive Thompson tells us how it is making us smarter and more powerful. Thompson covers the tools we use to aid and memorialize our memories, how more people are writing and writing for an audience, collaborative problem solving, inspiring creativity, making education accessible, knowing your friends better and social and civic activeness. In short, technology makes a broader world available to us and it can make us and the world a better place when put to good use.

My favorite highlights from the book:

“Our brains are remarkably bad at remembering details. They’re great at getting the gist of something, but they consistently muff the specifics.”

“The explosion of online writing has a second aspect that is even more important than the first, though: it’s almost always done for an audience…Audiences clarify the mind even more.”

“When you can resolve multiples and connect people with similar obsessions, the opposite happens. People who are talking and writing and working on the same thing often find one another, trade ideas and collaborate.”

“…knowledge has always been created via conversation, argument, and consensus.”

“We are social creatures, so we think socially.”

“It is no accident that the ‘maker’ movement, a worldwide collection of nerds trying to learn and teach everyday mechanical and electronic know-how, has arisen in the age of easy video documentation. If you want to know how to build something, seeing it happen is crucial.”

“…memory for facts is quite specific to our obsessions…”

“…we forget things in a predictable pattern: More than half our facts are gone in an hour, about two thirds are gone within a day, and within a month we’re down to about 20 percent.”

“To be really smart, though, an online group needs to obey one final rule–and a rather counterintuitive one. The members can’t have too much contact with one another. To work best, the members of a collective group ought to be able to think and work independently.”

“By following…friends’ updates, … [you can begin] to sense the rhythms of their lives.”

“Each little update–each individual bit of social information–is, on its own, pretty insignificant, even mundane. But taken together over time, the snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ inner lives, like dots forming into a pointillist painting.”

“But ambient awareness is all about slowly amassing an enormous, detailed contest. Follow someone’s ambient signals for a day and it seems like trivia. In a week it seems like a short story. In six months, a novel.”

“To make social change begin to snowball, we need to make our thoughts visible. When members of society think public and keep in ambient contact with one another, it creates a new environment–where we’re increasingly aware of what changes might be possible.

This was a fascinating read, but a heavy read. I definitely recommend this to those interested in digital trends and future predictions.

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Link to book on Amazon