Blogging the Highlights: Smarter Than You Think

I make no secret of the fact that I love Rus­sell Davies’ blog, and recent­ly he’s been run­ning a series of posts in which he blogs the por­tions he high­lights in books on his Kin­dle. I think this is a great idea, so I’m steal­ing it whole­sale, except I have a Kobo.

The first book is Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think, which looks at com­mon com­plaints against mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy (It makes us stu­pid! It makes us anti­so­cial!) and gen­tly attempts to debunk them. It’s not cyber-utopi­an, but it is pro-tech­nol­o­gy. I real­ly enjoyed the book, and agree with its con­clu­sions.

Here are the bits I high­light­ed:

In 1915, a Span­ish inven­tor unveiled a gen­uine, hon­est-to-good­ness robot that could eas­i­ly play Chess – a sim­ple endgame involv­ing only three pieces, any­way. A writer for Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can fret­ted that the inven­tor “Would Sub­sti­tute Machin­ery for the Human Mind.”

I have a hob­by of col­lect­ing dire pre­dic­tions about the per­ils of tech­nol­o­gy. This is an exam­ple.

The math­e­mati­cian Got­tfried Wil­helm Leib­niz bemoaned “that hor­ri­ble mass of books which keeps on grow­ing,” which would doom the qual­i­ty writ­ers to “the dan­ger of gen­er­al obliv­ion” and pro­duce “a return to bar­barism.”

That’s anoth­er exam­ple.

Each time we’re faced with bewil­der­ing new think­ing tools, we pan­ic – then quick­ly set about deduc­ing how they can be used to help us work, med­i­tate, and cre­ate.

This is kind of a dis­til­la­tion of the book. Each new tech­nol­o­gy seems over­whelm­ing, there is a small out­cry against it, then we adapt our­selves to it (and it to us).

Blog­ging forces you to write down your argu­ments and assump­tions. This is the sin­gle biggest rea­son to do it, and I think it alone makes it worth it.”

Gabriel Wein­berg of Duck­Duck­Go said this, and I endorse this mes­sage. That’s what this very blog is for.

U.S. neu­rol­o­gist George Miller Beard diag­nosed America’s white-col­lar pop­u­la­tion as suf­fer­ing from neuras­the­nia. The dis­or­der was, he argued, a deple­tion of the ner­vous sys­tem by its encoun­ters with the unnat­ur­al forces of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion, most par­tic­u­lar­ly “steam pow­er”, “the tele­graph”, “the peri­od­i­cal press”, and “the sci­ences.”

Today we blame mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy for mem­o­ry and atten­tion dis­or­ders instead.

Soci­ol­o­gists have a name for this prob­lem: plu­ral­is­tic igno­rance. It occurs when­ev­er a group of peo­ple under­es­ti­mate how much oth­ers around them share their atti­tudes and beliefs.

I’m not racist myself, but I couldn’t employ a black per­son as my col­leagues wouldn’t accept it.”

Com­plain­ing is easy – much eas­i­er than get­ting out of your chair. Many crit­ics have wor­ried about the rise of so-called slack­tivism, a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who think click­ing “like” on a Face­book page is enough to foment change. Dis­sent becomes a social pose.

The book’s posi­tion is that online activism helps act as an insti­ga­tor of, rather than a replace­ment for, real-life protest. Real­ly, I just liked the phras­ing of the last sen­tence.

It strikes me that social media embod­ies the con­nec­tion between action and expres­sion.”

Char­lie Beck­ett said this, about the the­o­ry in the pre­vi­ous quote.

… this reflex­ive­ly dystopi­an view is just as mis­lead­ing as the gid­dy boos­t­er­ism of Sil­i­con Val­ley. Its nos­tal­gia is false; it pre­tends these cul­tur­al prophe­cies of doom are some­how new and haven’t occurred with metro­nom­ic reg­u­lar­i­ty, and in near­ly iden­ti­cal form, for cen­turies.

(Stand­ing ova­tion) I share this opin­ion, and I was delight­ed to read this in the epi­logue. We’ve always had scares about new tech­nolo­gies, and we always will; just read some his­to­ry and you’ll find it’s an inescapable solu­tion. There nev­er was a more inno­cent time, we’re not all doomed because we read on our smart­phones instead of news­pa­pers, no-one is becom­ing more stu­pid because we have bet­ter tools to out­source some of our pro­cess­ing to. Every­thing old is new again.