25 May 2014

Smarter Than You Think

Summary from Goodreads:
It's undeniable—technology is changing the way we think. But is it for the better? Amid a chorus of doomsayers, Clive Thompson delivers a resounding "yes." The Internet age has produced a radical new style of human intelligence, worthy of both celebration and analysis. We learn more and retain it longer, write and think with global audiences, and even gain an ESP-like awareness of the world around us. Modern technology is making us smarter, better connected, and often deeper—both as individuals and as a society.

In Smarter Than You Think Thompson shows that every technological innovation—from the written word to the printing press to the telegraph—has provoked the very same anxieties that plague us today. We panic that life will never be the same, that our attentions are eroding, that culture is being trivialized. But as in the past, we adapt—learning to use the new and retaining what’s good of the old.

Thompson introduces us to a cast of extraordinary characters who augment their minds in inventive ways. There's the seventy-six-year old millionaire who digitally records his every waking moment—giving him instant recall of the events and ideas of his life, even going back decades. There's a group of courageous Chinese students who mounted an online movement that shut down a $1.6 billion toxic copper plant. There are experts and there are amateurs, including a global set of gamers who took a puzzle that had baffled HIV scientists for a decade—and solved it collaboratively in only one month.

Smarter Than You Think isn't just about pioneers. It's about everyday users of technology and how our digital tools—from Google to Twitter to Facebook and smartphones—are giving us new ways to learn, talk, and share our ideas. Thompson harnesses the latest discoveries in social science to explore how digital technology taps into our long-standing habits of mind—pushing them in powerful new directions. Our thinking will continue to evolve as newer tools enter our lives. Smarter Than You Think embraces and extols this transformation, presenting an exciting vision of the present and the future.

Clive Thompson's Smarter Than You Think is one of those necessary books about emerging technoloy - the kind that calmly sits in the divide between the New Frontier and Chicken Little.  New technology is very anxiety-making: what about privacy, what about too much screen time, what about books, what about what about what about.  And some of those fears are correct (as we move more and more of our lives to digital servers and put ourselves "out there" very publicly data security and privacy are hot-button issues) but some are just hand-wringing.  Thompson has conducted an interesting survey of how new technology - specifically increased computing and internet tools - have impacted our everyday lives. And our brains.  He makes a lot of great points about the pitfalls of nostalgia and that the critics perhaps are just a bit scared.  The book has good coverage of international events and how technology was used.

I would have liked some charts or pictures, particularly when describing trends or data (or maybe what the set-up looks like for the guy who wears the camera on his glasses - how intrusive is it if people can see it?).

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