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Smarter than You Think by Clive Thompson: The Notion of Cyber Thinking

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Throughout his informative book, Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson uses rhetorical strategies to explain to the public how technology is being used and how it is affecting our lives. He advances this goal by supplying various types of evidence and addressing the concerns and opposing views the audience may have. In this fashion, he advances a series of claims that highlight his belief that the internet is improving and revolutionizing the way we write.

With the internet, we now have a platform where we are able to readily make connections. The community we form these connections within greatly influence our way of thinking. Moreover, our surroundings greatly impact the way we think about things, because of that fact and the fact that most scientists do not work in sealed-off work environments, the discoveries that are made are only inevitable. For example, four astronomers discovered sunspots at the same time, this is impart due to the fact that in 1611 the quality of the lenses in telescopes had matured enough to finally pick out that small detail, and partially due to the fact that, at that time, questions about the sun and its role in the universe became newly interesting in wake of Copernicus’s heliocentric theory. Nearly forty years after the term “theory of multiples” was coined by Ogburn and Thomas, Metron found that when innovators aren’t aware of each other, the process of innovation slows down. A survey of mathematicians showed that 31 percent unknowingly duplicated the work of a colleague on account of neither being aware of the others work. Had they known of each other’s existence, they could have collaborated and completed the work in half the time with more insight. An example of this occurrence is the story of Ernest Duchesne, he was the original discoverer of penicillin. He attended a French military school in the mid-1890’s when he noticed a strange occurrence, the stable boys who tended the horses would leave the saddles damp in a dark room so that mold would grow underneath it. They explained to him that they did this because the mold helped heal the horse’s saddle sores. Fascinated by this idea Duchesne conducted some experiments where he treated sick guinea pigs with a solution, similar to that of the saddles, made from mold. He found that the guinea pigs healed completely. Duchesne took his findings and wrote it up for his Ph. D. thesis, due to his young age and not being very well known, the French Institut Pasteur didn’t acknowledge it. Thirty-two years would pass before a Scottish scientist, Alexander Fleming would rediscover penicillin totally unaware of Duchesne’s findings. The craziest part of all of this is that millions of people had died in that time and it could have been prevented with a cure that was not acknowledged at the time. With the internet, we now have a platform to share and seek help from others in order to collaborate and get things done in a more efficient way. Before the internet we were making connections based on our surroundings, the difference now is that with the internet, we not only make connections based on our current surroundings but also based on other people’s surroundings, the internet has opened a door that will take you around the world instantly.

No matter what you write online, whether it be a comment on a picture or a blog post, you are writing to an audience. Whether the audience be 2 people or 20, 000 people, you always try your best not to make a embarrass yourself. Obviously, no one wants to be grammatically incorrect or misspell anything, so writers are forced to think twice about the content of their post, which is called the audience effect. This is primarily the shift in one’s performance when he/she knows others will be watching. Not only does it change the way we write, but also the way we think and solve problems. An experiment done by a group of Vanderbilt University professors in 2008 studied the audience effect on small children. The experiment took place by asking a three separate groups of about a dozen four and five-year-olds to predict what would follow in a pattern of colored bugs. The kids placed in the first group were asked to quietly solve the puzzle by themselves. Meanwhile, the kids in the second group were asked to vocalize into a tape recorder the way they were solving the puzzles. Lastly, the kids in the third group were told to explain how they were solving the puzzle to their moms. The results were not very shocking the kids who quietly worked alone did the worst, while the ones who spoke into the tape recorders did slightly better due to the process of articulating their thought process out loud, however, the group that did best was the one who had an important audience. This effect can also be seen in older students and adults. In another study conducted, college students were asked by their English professor, Clarke Gray, at Douglas College to make a Wikipedia post about Canadian writers. Because on this highly public platform others can alter or delete your post if they disagree with it, students were inclined to write more formally and to find as many sources as possible to back up their information. Amazed at the work the student did she writes “often they’re handing in these short essays without any citations, but with Wikipedia, they suddenly were staying up to two a. m. honing and rewriting the entries and carefully sourcing everything. ” Such a drastic change in work ethic yet the only difference was that the whole world was their audience as opposed to just their teacher. In this section, Thompson uses ethos as his rhetorical strategy, he states his sources clearly, making his statements more trustworthy and less likely to be disputed. With the growth of technology, we become more and more reliant on our phones and computers. But with the increase in device usage also comes speculation on whether or not it really does dull the mind. Thompson argues that not only does it not dull your mind, it is actually helping us intellectually. Instead of looking at technology in a bad way, Thompson sets out to educate us about the effect technology really has on us, instead of just focusing on the negative, like most people seem to do, he tries to shed more light on all the positive aspects that come withtechnology as it continues to evolve.

One of the main arguments about technology is that it hasturned this generation into a bunch of unstructured, lazy writers, but studies show that in reality, we are writing now more than ever. Andrea Lunsford, a Stanford University English professor, one of America’s leading researchers into how young people write, talks about the fact that notonly are today’s freshman-comp essays more than six times longer than in the past but they alsotend to be complex. On top of all of that, others have also found that those who message a lotappear to have slightly better spelling and literacy abilities than those who don’t. In a quote from his book he states “Each day we compose 154 billion emails, 500 millionTweets, and over 1 million blog posts…”, he uses these rough estimates tohelp the audience gage the extent to which the internet plays a role in our everyday lives, in casethose numbers don’t make it clear enough, here are some other calculations from his book, roughly 3. 6 trillion words are composed daily, that is the rough equivalent of almost 36 millionbooks being written every single day. In comparison to how much people wrote during the “the glorious age of letter writing, ” one would find that the average person barely received one letter every two weeks. The difference is astronomical, not only has the volume in which we receive and send messages changed, but the content of our writing has also improved as we write in such a public manner on the internet. One of the main issues with Thompson’s argument is that it is lacking credibility and sources. With his use of statements like “consider these rough estimates…”, “researchers suggest…”, he weakens his arguments and leaves the audience wondering where he got the information from. Despite what time period it is, people will inevitably be scared of new things. Overtwenty-five hundred years ago, society started to veer away from an oral mode to a written one.

Socrates, one of the greatest philosophers of his time, believed writing to be dangerous becausehe worried that written text was too inert due to its inability to adapt to its audience. In this time, it was often thought that knowledge could only be formed through the Greek intellectualtradition of debate. He feared that once you wrote something down people would think ofarguments or want clarification of the text but wouldn’t be able to do so. A quote from Plato’sPhaedrus outlines Socrates’s fears “Writing is unfortunately like painting, for the creation of thepainter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a sole silence”. Regardless of the type of technology, there will always be people denying its benefits, you just have to have a positive outlook and find out how it can be helpful for you. This mentality can also be applied to today’s technology in that the internet is what you make of it, how you use it and what you use it for.

New forms of technology brings on new ways to form connections. This helps humans who are already constantly learning become more and more knowledgeable with an unlimited amount of information readily available at their fingertips. This information can range from scientific study findings to opinions of others and in the chapter called Public Thinking, Thompson argues, with several claims, that this has inherently enhanced the public’s writing skills. Much of his argument of the beneficial aspects of the internet to society is supported through ethos of experiments though his use of logos more often undermines the persuasiveness of his claims as it makes the audience question his credibility. Nevertheless, one cannot argue that the internet is not an influential tool to help you gain knowledge, improve writing habits, and stay connected to the rest of the world.

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