"We're becoming more conversational thinkers - a shift that has been rocky, not least because everyday public thought uncorks the incivility and prejudices that are commonly repressed in face-to-face life." - Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think, pg. 11
In the first two chapters of Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson discusses the complex relationship between technology and the human mind. He discusses how "public thinking" (10) has evolved in our culture due to the Internet, which allows people to hide behind anonymity to say things that they most likely wouldn't dare say to someone's face. Just last night, I was listening to a This American Life podcast (any Serial fans out there? This American Life is the parent organization for Serial, aka the best thing that happened on the Internet in 2014) titled "If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS" which tackled this idea head-on.
Writer Lindy West narrates a personal story about going head-to-head with the worst of the worst on the Internet: trolls. After publishing an article on Jezebel titled "An Open Letter to White Male Comedians" in which she discusses her views on white male comedians using rape jokes in their acts, West came under serious virtual attack from internet trolls who did not see the merit in her anti-rape joke stance (go figure). I will refrain from including some of the tweets, emails, and comments she received here because they are truly awful, but if you're interested, the podcast lays it all out. West explains that after receiving this vitriol for so many months, she became almost immune to it.
That is, until one particularly evil troll took things to a new level of terrible troll-ness. West's father had passed away from cancer in the midst of the height of the trolling, and one troll decided to exploit this painful time in her life by creating a Twitter account in her dead father's name. The account had a photo of West's father before he died, and tweeted out, unsurprisingly, very rude, extremely hurtful, and terribly mean things about West and her family. West was devastated. This she couldn't ignore; the pain was still too fresh.
I'm sure you're imagining the ending to this story right about now, one that ends in Twitter accounts being suspended, perhaps even attempts at legal action, but the positive side of the double-edged sword that is the Internet, prevails in this story, and it's really quite remarkable how it all turns out. I know you're all dying to know the ending so go listen to the podcast and hear West tell her story firsthand (it's a lot better than my retelling).
On pg. 14 of Smarter Than You Think, Thompson discusses his process in developing the book and the ways many forms of technology affected his writing of it. He writes, "the importance of being mindful resonates throughout the pages." In my reading so far, I agree with Thompson's own appraisal of his book. Instead of allowing technology to numb our minds, our awareness of the world around us, and even our own civility, we should instead use it as a tool to expand our thinking, to develop our worldview, and improve the world, rather than break the sometimes fragile-seeming connections that we still maintain with our fellow humans.