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!

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