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Review: ‘Smarter Than You Think’ by Clive Thompson

by Kim on January 9, 2014 · 17 comments

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Title: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better
Author: Clive Thompson
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2012
Publisher: The Penguin Press
Acquired: Bought
Rating: ★★★★★

Review: There have been quite a few books in the last five years arguing that technology is ruining our minds. In Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson acknowledges that technology is changing the way we think, but argues that these changes are for the better because they are ushering in a new style of intelligence that is improved by the resources that technology can provide.

Thompson suggests that there are three major ways technology is changing the way we think — it can give us an enormous external memory, it can make it easier to find connections between things, and it encourages more (almost too much) communication and publishing. The key to being smarter than we think is learning to harness the power of new technology while addressing the problems they can create.

In the book Thompson looks at the way technology changes mental habits by focusing on three observable areas: “cognitive behavior, the quality of our cultural production, and the social science that tries to measure what we do in everyday life.” Each chapter looks at a different aspect of technological thinking, exploring where we are, where we could go, and some of the pitfalls of technology in that area.

I really loved this book and took a whole slew of notes on different aspects of the book… so much I could write an incredibly long review. But that’s boring, so I’ll keep things brief. I loved that Thompson took a broad look at technology, connecting new tools with old tools and how we’re actually using those tools now. And while he acknowledges concerns with technology, he’s not willing to assume that the tool is entirely the problem.

In that way, Smarter Than You Think is also a great companion piece to one of my favorite books of 2013, The Distraction Addiction by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Thompson mentions the importance of mindfulness several times, noting, like Pang, that humans have always been easily distracted. A key to letting technology help you be smarter is to tame your brain and practice focus. The connection between the two books is likely another reason I enjoyed Smarter Than You Think so much.

If you are interested in technology and intelligence, or just like to learn about the cool ways people are putting new technology to work in creative ways, grab a copy of Smarter Than You Think. It’s great. With that, I’ll end with one of Thompson’s closing thoughts that I think is especially apt:

As with all new tools, we’ll also have to negotiate how not to use it. … We have to interrogate our most destabilizing new technologies and be aware of their dangers (economic, political, and social), to flat-out avoid the tools we find harmful — yet not be blinded to the ones that truly augment our thought and bring intellectual joy.

Other Reviews: Book Riot |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

bermudaonion (Kathy) January 9, 2014 at 8:21 am

This sounds like it would give you lots to think about and discuss.

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Kailana January 9, 2014 at 9:56 am

I think you are going to be bad on my TBR this year. :p

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Wendy @ Wensend January 9, 2014 at 10:05 am

Sounds like a great book. I’ve read a few books about cognitive intelligence, because I used to do a major in language and cognition, so I find this really interesting. I’m adding it to my TBR. :) Have you read We Are Our Brains by Dick Swaab? He’s a Dutch neurologist, writing about how our brain works. Thought it might be interesting for you!

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Kim January 14, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I haven’t read that one — sounds interesting! I like books on how the brain works. This one is a little less science-y than it sounds like the Swaab book is, but I liked getting a different angle on these issues.

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Athira January 9, 2014 at 11:47 am

I find books about technology quite fascinating and it is certainly a very polar topic. It is a too-much-is-bad-for-you kind of thing. I love that we have technology though. I grew up with book encyclopedias and it’s awesome to be able to get even new info in a click. But yes, the downside is that a lot of people are distracted, checking their phones at meals and kids having their own slew of gadgets.

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Kim January 14, 2014 at 8:25 pm

The idea of being too distracted is interesting. Both Thompson and Pang point out that people have always been worried about distraction — we just have new tools to both enable and discourage distraction now.

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Andi @ Estella's Revenge January 9, 2014 at 2:03 pm

This sounds so fascinating. And I love that it comes at the issue from a non-standard perspective…that technology is helping us out intellectually. Must investigate.

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Rebecca @ Love at First Book January 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Okay, I’m in! :D

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Shannon @ River City Reading January 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

I just added this to my book club’s “possibilities” list. I’ve been wanting to read it for a while now, but it also sounds like one that would be good to discuss. Love hearing more great things about it!

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Kim January 14, 2014 at 8:26 pm

This would be great in a book club setting. I think we all have different, strong, perspectives on the way technology is integrated in our lives.

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Words for Worms January 9, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I keep telling myself to read more non-fiction, but this is one of the first titles that’s sounded really appealing to me. I’m going to have to look into it. Thanks!

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Leah @ Books Speak Volumes January 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm

This sounds fascinating; I’m sold!

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Katie @ Doing Dewey January 10, 2014 at 11:26 pm

I rely very heavily on my computer as external memory. I cannot wait until we all have contacts that let us access the internet, because on that day, I will become so much smarter! In the mean time, I’m working very hard at memorizing the important facts for my field as a grad student. It’s too hard to have an intelligent conversation otherwise! Both this book and The Distraction Addiction appeal to me a lot because I do most of my work on the computer and think they could help me do it better. Thanks for the great review!

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Kim January 14, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I have a terrible time remembering things. I rely on external memory (lists and the ability to look things up on the computer) a lot in my daily life. I need to make a point to memorize some important numbers and whatnot so I’m not so lost without my phone.

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Sheila (Book JOurney) January 12, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Another great review.

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Jennifer January 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm

I’m definitely adding this one to my wish list right now! I am absolutely fascinated by this topic and hope to study it a lot more in the near future. As a teacher who teaches at a school where every kid had an iPad in class every day, I find myself struggling with HOW to use this technology and HOW to teach/model to the students how this technology should be used responsibly. There have been so many times I’ve felt like I’m fighting a losing battle, but I can definitely see the magnitude of power available because of this technology.

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Kim January 26, 2014 at 1:28 pm

That’s the important thing to me too — this technology isn’t going away, so how can we choose to live in a way that makes our lives with technology better? It’s a tough question!

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