The Past as Decoration

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I am the least computer literate individual of my generation. I truly believe this. The opening of Clive Thompson's, "Smarter than You Think," definitely scared me initially. I was thinking, "Oh goodness, computers can beat people at chess so it is only a matter of time before they take over the world.... I, Robot style."

But I tend to be a little paranoid when it comes to technology (SmartWatches, Car Computers, Location Services... all freak me out). Clive Thompson, however, seemed to put the junction of humans and computers in a way that made me optimistic about the whole thing. I really appreciated how he pointed out that computers and humans "think" differently, no way superior to the other. It is when the collaboration of computers and humans is perfected that you get the "ultimate" machine, like with the chess amateurs that collaborated so well with their computers.

I had never considered that every innovation changes how we think, as Thompson said, whether it's paper allowing us to record thought more linearly or if its newspaper and telegrams making the world seem so much smaller. After reading this, I am freaked out a lot less by technology, specifically computers and see that it is just a normal progression and innovation. It isn't a crutch, or prosthetic leg even. . . It's more of a jetpack for human existence.

Clive Thompson's talk about memories in his second chapter really captured me. I am a huge fan of memories and looking back and so to see the use of technology to aid in that, like Deb Roy used... it was a beautiful thing.

Photo by Carl Van Vechten

The Faulker quote that Thompson chooses to include, "The past is never dead. It's not even past" really struck a chord with me. I feel like in today's society people spend so much time trying to "get over it" or "let sleeping dogs lie" or even "forget about it" when they don't realize that the past is just as much an integral part of who you are as the present. Without the past you would not be who you are or where you are or what you are. It makes me feel as if the word 'past' doesn't give the concept much justice. It is never "past." It seems to me that this word is one instance when the English language falls short in expressing really what is being focused on. The past shouldn't be seen as baggage, but rather beautiful decoration.


kgthoma's picture

Your last paragraph was inspirational!

Hey Remy!
First off, I totally understand where you are coming from when you talk about technology being a bit scary at times. I wrote about this a little in my blog post. Its great that Thompson could give some sort of peace regarding your apprehension. Also you are not alone in feeling like you just don't get technology- I feel that way all of the time. (It took me a week to figure out how to post a picture on my blog here.)

I found your last paragraph beautiful and inspirational. Everything we do and everything we have been through alters our future and attributes to the person we are today. I think Thompson put it something like, "you are not the same person you were before you read this paragraph and you will never be that person again." Your last sentence was so enlightening and such a great way to thing of the past-good or bad.

-Kate Thomas

kglasso's picture

great post

I loved your correlation of the reading with iRobot. I loved that movie for sure- Will Smith makes everything better. I agree with being freaked out by technology. When I went to download the new messenger app from Facebook my friend told me not to because the government monitors it closely. I downloaded it anyways but I always wonder if "they're watching". The amount of intelligence technology has can be freaky. I agree with your passage about the past, I think we would all like to leave certain things in our past and not have to relive them.

tpom13's picture

I really loved reading your

I really loved reading your blog. You have a very energetic style that made it easy to read. I also agree with you on the initial view on technology, I don't understand it too well either. But you made the combination of both human and computer intelligence seem important and unique. It was tied in with how you discussed how any advancement (like paper) will change how humans think.
Great Job!

mkozma's picture


I really like this quote: "It isn't a crutch, or prosthetic leg even. . . It's more of a jetpack for human existence," and I actually wrote my own blog on something quite similar. I do appreciate the "I, Robot" comparison, and to a certain extent I think you're right. The increase and improvement of technology is definitely laying down the groundwork for thinking machines. Robots are becoming smarter everyday and I truly believe that in time, we are bound to start encountering these problems where robots are more humanized. We are giving technology a mind (our minds) specifically, and I like the idea you have that together they could potentially be unbeatable.

I think that's still a long way away though. But you never know!