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How has technology changed the world? (Clive Thompson)

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Clive Thompson Man competes or collaborates with machine? Smarter Than You Think

It’s undeniable: technology is changing the way we think.  But how has technology changed the world? Is it for the better? Amid a chorus of doomsayers, Clive Thompson votes yes.  Join CJ as she interviews Clive Thompson’s about his book “Smarter Than You Think” on the benefits of  emerging technologies and how we can collaborate with machines to create a positive future.




YouTube Video with Clive Thompson – Smarter Than You Think

Ten Ways Technology is Making Us Smarter

Blog post written by Clive Thompson and republished from

1. The power of thinking out loud: Before the Internet, people rarely wrote. Now nearly everyone does—and they do it in public, online. We’re “public thinkers,” pouring out our ideas and observations and arguments, about 36 million books worth of prose a day. All this writing sharpens our thought. It produces the “audience effect” (we take our ideas more seriously when we know others will be reading and critiquing them) and the “generation effect” (we’re better able to remember things we write about.)
2. Group-solving big problems: When we think in public, we quickly find people who share our passions—and then we collaborate on projects or problems too big for one person to tackle. That includes silly and fun things (groups of Japanese teenagers subtitling entire English TV series in twenty-four hours) and important ones (players of the online game, who solved a decade-old HIV mystery in only three weeks).
3. Social ESP: All those little “status updates” add up to a lot. When you use Facebook or Twitter to follow friends, family, or interesting strangers, the constant stream of tiny updates gives you what psychologists call “ambient awareness”—an ESP-like sense of what’s going on in the minds and lives of others. Using ambient awareness, families stay in closer contact, creative workers find new ideas, and Fortune 500 companies are becoming 25% more productive.
4. The power of “weak links”: Living online allows us to keep in touch not only with our closest companions, but with so-called “weak links”: People we only know slightly. Despite their name, weak links are incredibly useful—they bring the most useful and fresh information into our lives. Weak links bring us the best job offers, a wider array of political views, and new opportunities. (When I was househunting in New York, I found my new home via a weak link on Facebook.)
5. Civic life reboots: Online expression is helping reboot civic life. Studies show people who are heavily active online are also more civic-minded, doing offline work to help society. Despite our fears about echo chambers, these people also hear a wider array of political views than others. Plus, all that online talk often leads to social change; it helps erode “pluralistic ignorance”, our tendency to tolerate injustice because we worry we’re the only ones who object. Online tools have helped drive the quest for justice worldwide—from Trayvon Martin in the U.S. to the Arab Spring.
6. Infinite memory: It used to be hard to record our lives. Today it’s the opposite: We have thousands of emails, pictures, videos, and texts documenting what we’ve done, what we’ve said, and where we’ve been. This utterly transforms the way we reminisce. “Lifeloggers” like Gordon Bell—a 78-year-old millionaire with a seven-decade personal archive—uses daily random pictures from his huge archive to remind him of events he’d long forgotten. Others in the “quantified self” movement use their lifelogs to spy patterns in their lives: One woman helped treat her depression by studying the ebb and flow of her moods.
7. New ways to learn and teach: In the hands of smart teachers, digital tools are revitalizing how schools work. Teachers are “flipping” their classrooms—having students absorb lectures at home, then doing homework in class, where they can get one-on-one help. Math software like the Khan Academy lets kids work at their own pace, so talented kids can race ahead (sometimes several grade levels) while teachers can more quickly identify students needing one-on-one help. And writing explodes: Students who do “public thinking”—everything from blogging to contributing to Wikipedia—produce prose that is better, longer, and more carefully researched.
8. New literacies: Literacy used to mean text: Reading and writing. But now we’re learning to express ourselves through powerful new forms—like video, photography, and even data. They’re becoming as flexible as pencil-and-paper for recording an idea and sharing it with someone else. Political junkies use data tools like “word clouds” to analyze the speeches of politicians; TV fans do frame-by-frame breakdowns of their favorite shows; Chinese citizens thwart their country’s censors by using Photoshop to produce clever, acerbic LOL-cat style agitprop.
9. Instant information: Google doesn’t have to make you stupid. Quite the opposite: Studies show we’re now using search engines as “transactive memory”. We rely on it the same way we’ve relied (for thousands of years) on the smart people around us—our friends, spouses, and colleagues who can give us a quick answer to a detail we can’t recall. In effect, we’re treating Google like a supersmart friend who’s always at our beck and call.
10. Cognitive diversity: Different technologies let us think in different ways. So the smartest people are learning to embrace diversity—switching tools to keep their mental environment fresh. If you’ve been working online for days, emailing and tweeting and connecting? Spend the weekend offline, read books, use the distraction-free time to slow-bake ideas.

About Clive Thompson

Clive ThompsonClive Thompson is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired.

As a child growing up in Toronto of the 1970s and 80s, Clive Thompson became fascinated with the first “home computers”—the ones you plugged into your TV, like the Commodore 64, and programmed using BASIC. He was hooked, spending hours writing video games, music programs, and simple forms of artificial intelligence. The obsession stuck with him, even as he went to the University of Toronto to study poetry and political science. When he became a magazine writer in the 1990s, the Internet erupted into the mainstream, and he began reporting on how digital tools—everything from email to digital photography to instant messaging—was changing society.

Clive started out pessimistic about the impact of the Internet on life. He worried, like many social critics before him, that society and civility would fall off a cliff. But over the next twenty years he realized that when everyday people were given remarkable powers of self-expression on a global scale, amazing things happened more often than not: Wikipedia, YouTube “response” conversations, collaborative art, crazy new forms of writing like TV recaps, collaborative problem-solving, and the ESP-like awareness that comes from the status-update universe.

Today, Thompson is one of the most prominent technology writers, respected for doing deeply-reported, long-form magazine stories that get beyond headlines and harness the insights of science, literature, history and philosophy. He specializes in writing not merely on the inventors of technologies, but about how everyday people use them—often quite unpredictably. In addition to the New York Times Magazine and Wired, he writes for Mother Jones and Smithsonian. He is one of the longest-running bloggers, having launched his science-and-tech blog Collision Detection since 2002. In his spare time he’s also a musician, performing in The Delorean Sisters and writing original music as part of the duo Cove. He is married and lives in Brooklyn with his two children.

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