Book by Quote: Smarter Than You. Think.

Yet another ‘Book By Quote’ then. A full of … wisdom one again, for once.
An attempt to subjectively summarise a book by the quotes I found worthwhile to mark, to remember. Be aware that the quotes as such, aren’t a real unbiased ‘objective’ summary; most often I heartily advise to read the book yourself. This one, for sure – though don’t be uncritical while going through the many bends in not-so-water-tight logic ..!

So, this time: Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think, Williams Collins 2013, ISBN 978000742777-2.

“Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer,” Kasparov concluded, “was overwhelming.” (p.5)

We’re all playing advanced chess these days. We just haven’t learned to appreciate it. (p.6)

Harold Innis – the lesser-known but arguably more interesting intellectual midwife of Marshall McLuhan – called this the bias of a new tool. Living with new technologies means understanding how they bias everyday life. (p.8)

As electricity became cheap and ubiquitous in the West, its role expanded from things you’d expect – like nighttime lighting – to the unexpected and seemingly trivial: battery-driven toy trains, electric blenders, vibrators. (p.8)

… scanned the brains of new mothers and fathers as they listened to recordings of their babies’ cries. They found brain circuit activity similar to that in people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. (pp.14-15)

Marcel Proust regarded the recollection of your life as a defining task of humanity; meditating on what you’ve done is an act of recovering, … Vladimir Nabokov saw it a bit differently … “I confess I do not believe in time.” (As Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”) (p.23)

We face an intriguing inversion point in human memory. We’re moving from a period in which most of the details of our lives were forgotten to one in which many, perhaps most of them, will be captured. (p.28)

OK, first a pic, than a moar tag; and the rest – a long rest.
[Yup, Fiorentina.]

But machine searching is brittle. If you don’t have the right cue to start with … or the data didn’t get saved in the right way, you might never find your way back … (p.32)

It’s like the scene from a Philip K. Dick novel: A man has external memory, but it’s locked up tight and he can’t access it – a cyborg estranged from his own mind. As I talked to other lifeloggers, they bemoaned the same problem. Saving is easy; finding can be hard. (p.33)

Even if we are moving towards a world where less is forgotten, that isn’t the same as more being remembered. (p.33)

This isn’t a problem just for lifeloggers; even middle-of-the-road camera phone users quickly amass so many photos that they often give up on organizing them. … “And they’d get pretty upset when they realized that stuff was there, but essentially gone,” … (p.34)

Yet the weird truth is that searching a lifelog may not, in the end, be the way we take advantage of our rapidly expanding artificial memory. … The real promise of artificial memory isn’t its use as a passive storage device, like a pen-and-paper diary. Instead, future lifelogs are liable to be active – trying to remember things for us. (p.35)

Microsoft is still living down its disastrous introduction of Clippy, a ghastly piece or artificial intelligence – I’m using that term very loosely – that would observe people’s behavior as they worked on a document and try to bust in, offering “advice” that tended to be spectacularly useless. (p.37)

What charmed me is how such a crude signal – the mere mention of a location – could prompt so many memories: geolocation as a Proustian cookie. (p.38)

They began posting more shouts – pithy, one-sentence descriptions of what they were doing – to their check-ins, … In essence, they were shouting out to their future selves, writing notes into a diary that would slyly present itself, one year hence, to be read. (p.38)

“Ninety percent of everything is crap,” a formulation that geeks now refer to as Sturgeon’s Law. Anyone who’s spent time slogging through the swamp of books, journalism, TV, and movies knows that Sturgeon’s Law holds pretty well even for edited and curated culture. (p.48)

“… We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” (p.51)

Social scientists call this the “audience effect”—the shift in our performance when we know people are watching. (p.54)

I’d argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of ten people (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online posts) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from ten people to a million people. (p.56)

For Socrates, the advent of writing was dangerous. He worried that text was too inert: once you wrote something down, that text couldn’t adapt to its audience. People would read your book and think of a problem in your argument or want clarifications of your points, but they’d be out of luck. (p.68)

“An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet, “ … (p.77)

Services like Twitter are more open and thus less manageable. But even in those spaces, tummeling is a digital-age skill that we will increasingly need to learn, even formally teach; if this aspect of modern civics became widespread enough, it could help reform more and more public spaces online. (pp.80-81)

But the digital age is also producing a Cambrian explosion in different media that we’re using to talk, and think, with each other – including images, video, and data visualization. The difference is, while we’re taught in school how to write and read, our traditional literacy focuses less on these new modes of publishing. (p.82)

Computational power isn’t just changing the old literacies of reading and writing. It’s creating new ones. (p87)

Teachers have begun using Wordles to help students improve their writing by teasing out bad habits in their prose. (p.88)

Tufte found that the average New York Times chart contained 120 elements; with that many pieces of data, a reader can spy interesting patterns. PowerPoint slides were so primitive that the average chart contained only twelve elements. As a bleak point of comparison, the average chart in Pravda – back when it was an official instrument of Soviet propaganda in the early 1980s – contained five elements. PowerPoint is so limiting a toll, Tufte concluded, that it nudges users toward an almost Soviet level of obfuscation. “Doing a bit better than Pravda,” he wrote, “is not good enough.” (p.93)

But as we develop ever more new modes for expressing our ideas and recording knowledge, the challenge will be figuring out when to use which form. (p.110)

All literacies are useful to dabble in even if you never master them. They open your eyes to the world around you. Learning to write, even clumsily, teaches us to appreciate writing done well; by learning to play an instrument, we gain a deeper appreciation of true virtuosity. The same holds with design. Try it yourself and you’ll learn how hard it is to do well – and you’ll appreciate more deeply what it means when someone does it at a genius level. (p.112)
[To add, this:]

Phaedrus refuses to recite the speech by heart. “How,” he pleads with Socrates, “can you imagine that my unpracticed memory can do justice to an elaborate work..?” Instead, Phaedrus offers a sort of PowerPoint version; he’ll recite a summary of the speech. At this point, Socrates coyly notes that Phaedrus is hiding a scroll under his cloak. It’s a copy of Lysias’s speech! Phaedrus was indeed trying to absorb and learn the speech, but he was relying on a more modern technique: Poring over the written word. Semantic storage was shifting from inside the brain to outside. Socrates warned Phaedrus of the dangers of this arriviste technology. … Thamus disagreed. Knowledge stored was not really knowledge at all. (pp.117-118)

Indeed, like many modern readers, Drexel probably forgot not only the books he’d read, but that he’d even made notes on them. (p.121)

In 1910, the French information-science pioneer Paul Otlet created a sort of paper-and-ink precursors to today’s remotely queryable online world: the Mundaneum, a collection of twelve million facts written on catalog cards, meticulously organized with an indexing system of Otlet’s devising. (p.122)

“Even the modern great library,” [Vannevar Bush] wrote, “is not generally consulted; it is nibbled at by a few.” (p.123)

It’s much faster to ask your coworker or wife, because they’re right there. (p.125)

Though we may assume search engines are used to answer questions, some research has found that in reality up to 40 percent of all queries are acts of remembering. We’re trying to refresh the details of something we’ve previously encountered. (p.130)

The subtler risk of living in our Google-drenched world may not be how it affects our factual knowledge. It’s how it affects our creativity. (p.131)

Feminists, of course, have long noted that “great men” use their wives for domestic transactive memory: They can focus on work because someone else is doing the drudge labor of managing the socks. (p.134)

Religious traditions and trade unions understood this, back when they lobbied for the Sabbath and weekends off for workers. Digital sabbaths are crucial for cognition and for the spirit. (p.137)

And it’s also true that among my friends in the 1990s, the mere possession of a mobile phone marked you as a self-important boor. (p.141)

One of the reason[s] some cultural elitists – political pundits, novelists, intellectuals – tend to be so unsettled by the Internet is that it has revealed how oceanically broad are the interests of the public in general. Before the Internet, with no way of observing the obsessions of the masses, it was a lot easier to pretend that these obsessions simply didn’t exist; that the nation was “United” around caring about the same small number of movies, weekly magazines, novels, political issues, or personalities. This was probably always a self-flattering illusion for the folks who ran things. (p.163)

Take, for example, fan fiction. … One vibrant subset was slash fiction, written by Star Trek fans intrigued by the idea of a homoerotic relationship between Kirk and Spock – a wild, Heathcliffian hothead paired with a cool, distant partner. (p.154)

“If you wanted to read a 3000 word fic where Picard forces Gandalf into sexual bondage, and it seems unconsensual but secretly both want it, and it’s R-explicit but not NC-17 explicit, all you had to do was search along the appropriate combination of tags,” … (p.154)

First, collective thinking requires a focused problem to solve. (p.158)

Which is the point: Art is usually the product of a single independent vision. As most corporations discover to their dismay, groups can suck creativity out of projects because they tamp down the most original, idiosyncratic parts of each individual’s vision. (pp. 159-160)

But they’re not enough. Really successful collective thinking also requires dilettantes – people who offer a single small bit of help, like doing one edit or adding a fact or photo. (p160)

There’s one final, and very subtle, part of smart collective thinking: culture. (p.162)

To be really smart, though, an online group needs to obey one final rule – and a rather counterintuitive one. The members can’t have too much contact with one another. To work best, the members of a collective group ought to be able to think and work independently. (p.164)

Historically, one way we measure intelligence is by evaluating one’s ability to solve problems. But in collective thinking, a new proposition emerges that flips this logic on its head. The key skill here is designing the problems – designing them in a way that lets many people pitch in to solve it. (p.166)

Educationally, Civ 3 is a rare game, insofar as its content dovetails nicely with the goal of teaching history, geography, and politics. Not many games have that property. (p.202)

Ever since Mark Prensky coined the term “digital natives,” we’ve been told that young people have an innate edge in using the technology. They’re comfortable with it; they get it, effortlessly, in a way older people don’t. But this, alas, isn’t really true. (p.204)

She trains them not to be fooled by professional-looking design; plenty of corporate sites look flashy while pddling self-serving infojunk. (p.206)

In other words, Google makes broad-based knowledge of the world more important, not less. (p.206)

And Haley also noticed that when he did socialize face-to-face, the conversation was subtly altered. He and his friends didn’t need to ask, “So, what have you been up to?” [probably would’ve been “ ‘sup!?”; ed.] because they already knew. (p.210)

This is the paradox of status updates. Each little update – each individual bit of social information – is, on its own, pretty insignificant, even mundane. But taken together over time, the snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ inner lives, like dots forming into a pointilist painting. (p.211)

Ambient awareness also endows us with new, sometimes startling abilities. (p.212)

Today, this sort of group awareness happens constantly online. I think of it as a form of proprioception, our body’s awareness of where its limbs are. … When groups of people – friends, family, workmates – keep in lightweight online contact, it gives us social proprioception: a group’s sense of itself. (pp.213-214)

The ambient signals given off by status updates and streams of photos can be as powerful as those from real-life objects. Indeed, they’re sometimes more revelatory. One of the hilarities of ambient life is discovering how much weirder people are than you thought, even those you believed you knew well. (p.216)

But younger workers were completely different. They found traditional meetings vaguely confrontational and far preferred short, informal gatherings. Why? Because they were more accustomed to staying in touch ambiently and sharing information online, accomplishing virtually the tasks that boomers grew up doing physically. Plus, the younger workers had the intuition – which, frankly, most older workers would agree with – that most meetings are a fantastic waste of time. (p.217)

Many young entrepreneurs I interview these days put off getting an office for a surprisingly long time, regarding it as a drag on resources and even productivity; instead, their employees all work from home or cafés or coworking spaces around town (or around the world), keeping in constant lightweight contact via tools like chat and Skype. (p.217)

Used correctly, social proprioception can make one’s work life less frazzled by reducing the constant stream of interruptions. (p.218)

Women, being so delicate, were of course at most danger. (p.224)

Soon, the same panic emerged in response to the telephone. (p.224)

Why would this be? Surely your close friends are the ones looking out for you, eager to help you find a good job? Sure, but as Granovetter pointed out, your friends have an informational deficit. They’re too similar. (p.228)

Indeed, as a mechanism for finding knowledge, weak-link networks occupy a cognitive role usefully different from, say, search engines. While Google is useful at quickly answering a specific factual question, networks of people are better at fuzzy, “any-idea-how-to-deal-with-this?” dilemmas that occupy everyday life. They harness wisdom and judgement, not just pattern matching of facts. (p.230)

If you escape homophily, there’s another danger to ambient awareness: It can become simply too interesting and engaging. (p.231)

To maintain cognitive diversity, we have to step away from the screen to immerse ourselves in the slower-paced pleasures of nature, books, and “offline” conversations and art. (p.232)

But people who use ambient signals as a way to think, not merely to self-promote, have discovered something different. When an online group grows above a certain size, signals get drowned in noise, and the exchange of ideas grinds to a halt. (p.232)

Evans ran into the same problems newspapers hit with their comment threads: Socializing doesn’t scale. Conversations don’t scale. (p.233)

The lesson is that there’s value in obscurity. (p. 234)

“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him,” …(Richelieu) (p.236)

Since anything online can be copied and circulated, you also get what [B]oyd calls “context collapse”: sexy talk meant for your partner gets seen by your mother when you accidentally mismanage the settings on your social tools. (p.236)

We live less in a panopticon than an “omniopticon,” …, a situation in which we’re made uneasy by potential ill uses of our info in the hands of those peers. Our problem ins’t just Big Brother – it’s all the Little Brothers and Sisters. (p.238)

Goffman’s book depicted a society of 1950s folk frenetically obsessing over how they appear to others: young women dutifully concealing their intelligence from their duller dates, job candidates rejected for not being a “Hollywood type” or having teeth that were too square. Indeed the good old days of the 1950s were, as historians and authors remind us, replete with a level of omniopticonic surveillance that often out-Facebooked Facebook. But at least in the past, leaving your past behind was easier, such as if you fled your small town and moved to the big. Anonymous city. Plus, fragile human memory meant scandalous details faded organically over time. (p.238)

You can’t derail someone’s bid for political office by unearthing their old beer-pong picture if everyone has posted beer-pong pictures. (p.239)

There’s a counterargument here, though: Society mey retire old forms of social censure, but it’s very good at coming up with new ones, particularly for young women. (p.239)

Even old-fashioned forms of contemplation, like book reading, are likely to develop ambient signals. Readers are already streaming “highlights” of what they’re reading onto services like … [this post] (p.243)

Without correct information, wet get it wrong. (p.253)

To make social change begin to snowball, we need to make our thoughts visible. (p.254)

Through violence and fear, despots actively create pluralistic ignorance. (p.256)

One of the dangers of online conversation is if it remains conversation, never turning into action. (p.259)

… in the 1980s, older activists worried that young people were substituting T-shirts and political buttons for serious activism. (T-shirts were the pre-Internet hashtag.) (p.260)

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that online interactions are going to magically reduce the partisanship of modern politics. It’s amazingly hard to change someone’s mind on a big, important issue. (p.263)

Collaborative mapping is, in the world of civics, a new literacy. (p.266)

Sousveillance is when the population turns its cameras on the powerful – watching from below (sous). It’s deeply unsettling to authority figures, … (p.266)

Tools for thinking help make people smarter. But they don’t necessarily make them morally better. So what happens when you take brutal rulers and give them technology that makes them smarter and more efficient? They become better at doing evil. (p.268)

She found that the online discussion actually repressed people’s political urges. (p.269)

Despots, it turns out, are learning to practice … “networked authoritarianism” – the use of the Internet to consolidate power. (p.270)

Despots also love the permanence of digital memory. (p.270)

Pervasive monitoring will provide what amounts to a time machine allowing authoritarian governments to perform retrospective surveillance. (p.271)

When civic conversation takes place on Facebook, Facebook’s rules govern how civil society operates. (p.272)

… as pamphleteers throughout history have shown, anonymous voices have a lot of power. (p.272)

In 1996, writer and electronic activist John Perry Barlow proclaimed “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” Addressing old-school governments – “you weary giants of flesh and steel” – he proclaimed, “You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” As it turns out, nothing of the sort was true. (p. 273)

This is what’s known as the Cute Cat Theory of online services, as formulated by Ethan Zuckerman, the head of the MIT Center for Civic Media. Shut down a small Web site where only activists blog, and the mass public will neither notice nor care. Shut down YouTube for political reasons? They you take away people’s cat videos – which enrages and radicalizes the masses. (p.275)

“No person or organization shall be deprived of the ability to connect to others without due process of law and the presumption of innocence,” is the prime rule suggested by Tim Berners-Lee, … (p.276)

The challenge, then, is to get people to care about their digital rights enough for governments, and companies, to respond to them. (p.277)

This is more than googling. Google finds you a page, but you have to read it to find the factoid you’re looking for. Watson is, as Ferrucci put it, not a search engine but a “question-answering machine.” (p.281)

Watching the machine deftly handle puns was breathtaking, even a little unnerving. It was like watching one of these Rise-of-the-Machines movies in which the computer develops self-awareness and decides to slaughter humanity just for the heck of it. (p.282)

That’s it! We’re finally doomed. (p.282)

Among other things, doomsaying is emotionally self-protective: If you complain that today’s technology is wrecking the culture, you can tell yourself you’re a gimlet-eyed critic who isn’t hoodwinked by high-tech trends and silly popular activities like social networking. You seem like someone who has a richer, deeper appreciation for the past and who stands above the triviality of today’s life. (p.283)

But as I’ve argued, 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. (p.283)

Understanding how to use new tools for thought requires not just a critical eye, but curiosity and experimentation. (p.284)

Frankly, I suspect this is only the first stage. We’re not thinking big enough or weird enough. A tool’s most transformative uses generally take us by surprise. (p.285)

You reached it. The End.

As a thank-you note:
DSCN0264[What’s he doing in (the main entrance of…!) a Catholic duomo ..!?]


About maverisk

Maverisk Consultancy, IS Audit and Advisory services: Wikinomics meets governance and audit; otherwise, see my personal LinkedIn profile
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