Friday, December 13, 2013
Smarter Than You Think
The Penguin Press, 2013
Though my heart lies in YA fiction, I am interested in a wide variety of other topics including this book I've seen buzz about that examines how technology is impacting us. I have certainly read articles warning about dire outcomes from technology and I've witnessed what I consider sad consequences (for example at a restaurant I've seen parents thoroughly engrossed in their phones while their children beg for attention). This book however takes a more optimistic view about how we can and do use technology in extremely beneficial ways.
For example using newer platforms online like change.org has allowed people to find similar-minded people and organize at a scale not seen before. Twitter allows for quick spreading of news. If I hear about an earthquake for example, I always turn to Twitter to find out more quickly and turn to traditional news once there has been time for more thorough information to be gathered. These technologies work best when they have a single clear purpose and desired outcome. Broadening it too much tends to muddy its effect. He also takes about utilizing a computer's strengths (memory and brute-force processing of data) to complement a human's mind and discretion.
Two of the most striking points for me involved historical examples. He shared about Ernest Duchesne who performed research on penicillin but was unable to get his work published and died without his findings shared with the world. Thirty-two years later Alexander Fleming shared penicillin. Think of how many lives could have been saved if Duchesne had had a platform to share his work outside of the formalized channels that rejected him or if he had found colleagues to disseminate his information.
The other point that struck me relates to our tendency to romanticize the past. For example Thompson writes about how we idealize the great letter-writing culture of the past. He says that the average was still only 5.15 letters per year at that time. So not a lot. In comparison, online has greatly sparked our writing including especially us bloggers :) And it has allowed us to connect with so many more people than we would have in the past. I really enjoyed reading about how much more writing we're producing and was struck by two examples he shared of bloggers whose years of posts added up to 2+ books. It made me wonder how long my blog would be in book format...
Overall: A very interesting and accessible work of non-fiction with some great endnotes and index.