9 October 2018
Technology, we all have it, use it, and love it. The chapter called “Public Thinking” in Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter than you think, talks about how public thinking on the internet has plenty major benefits because people are writing more frequently, and perhaps, more intelligently too. As a child Clive Thompson grew up fascinated by new technology and computers. As he continued to get older he became a writer for New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired. His passion for writing combined with his obsession of the internet led him to writing his book Smarter Than You Think. Chapter two of his book specifically entails how and why the internet actually benefits society contrary to popular belief. For example, it has made our thoughts become more clear and cognitive, it improves the way we write because of the audience we are writing for, and it expands our social connections and knowledge. Many people may argue that the internet has made individuals less intelligent but according to Thompson, they are wrong. He makes many interesting and important claims that people may not have thought of before, but he also carefully uses rebuttals so that the argument is not one sided or bias. This chapter is also filled with different types of evidence and reasoning as to why his side of the argument is the correct one. It gets the readers thinking about things they might not have ever thought of before reading this. In this paper I will evaluate and analyze Thompson’s main claims, discuss rebuttals, and inspect his strengths and weaknesses.
In this excerpt from Thompson’s book, he argues that the internet allows us to write more now than we ever have previously. This has become a resource for people all over the world and it is so easily accessible that people are writing without even noticing it. He uses a personal anecdote to justify this claim. Thompson also uses an effective strategy of comparing how much we write now versus how much we wrote back when writing letters was the main form of communication. He did this because it closely relates to the argument and what he is talking about. For example, Thompson asked his mother how much she actually wrote in the fantasized letter writing days and her response was “”Oh, never! I sign my name on checks or make lists-that’s about it”” (Thompson 50). Because he used an older figure to reference, readers are more likely to believe it is true because older people are always said to be wiser. This doubtlessly got a lot of readers to realize that we have access to write more now than back in the old days. They also most likely thought about their ancestors, and maybe even asked them how much they wrote back then. He also uses statistics about how much we write on the daily. He says “we compose 154 billion emails, more than 500 million tweets on Twitter, and over 1 million blog posts and 1.3 million blog comments on WordPress alone” (Thompson 46-47). This shows people the bigger picture about how often and how much we use the internet for writing every single day. The use of the large numbers grasps the reader’s attention because it gets them thinking about real statistics day to day. His main claim and choice of evidence were very thorough and thoughtful when it came down to the viewers perspective of the chapter.
Another one of Thomson’s main claims is that writing things down can improve the quality and clarity of our thoughts. Think about it, if songwriters thought of lyrics in their head and it was clear to them, they themselves wouldn’t even exist because they would just know the lyrics already without having to write them down. Have you ever written an essay perfectly in one go? This is why we write things down because the thoughts and ideas become jumbled in our brains if we don’t. Thompson often uses media discourse for his main claims so that his readers know exactly what is going on throughout the essay. It provides an organized piece of writing that is easy to follow and understand. This claim is also backed up by evidence which is an effective way to validate the point trying to me made. He uses a poet to back up this argument to establish credibility for the audience. The famous poet, Cecil Day-Lewis, says “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand” (Thompson 51). Since this quote is coming from someone who writes poems for a living, it shows that writing things down plays a huge role in clarifying your mind and is a big part of what writers do for their work. Using a poet as evidence is very powerful when it comes to converting the audience to Thompson’s side.
When it comes to having an audience, the mind works in a way that improves your writing because it knows that someone is going to view your work. Thompson states that even if the audience is not that large, it still makes a much bigger impact than no audience at all. This is another one of Thompson’s main claims in the text. Thompson uses many types of evidence to prove how writing things for an audience can improve the way we write. This is extremely important to the overall argument because when people use technology they tend to have an audience. This displays that one’s writing can take shape more clearly without thinking about it because they know they have an audience watching. One strategy that he uses is defining the term audience effect. He claims that “[s]ocial scientists call this the “audience effect” [which is] the shift in our performance when we know people are watching” (Thompson 54). Defining this gives people a clear vision of what the term means so that there is no confusion. This is a strong strategy to use because it establishes trustworthiness in the person reading the article. Thompson also uses a few case studies to prove the audience effect is true in most cases. Case studies are useful because they grab the reader’s attention and gets them wondering what the end result is going to come out to be. For this specific claim he uses many case studies, strategies, and facts. All of this evidence is appropriate and effective in order to get his central argument across. He reveals that “a group of Vanderbilt University professors in 2008 published a study” on three different groups of children (Thompson 55). The first group was instructed to solve a puzzle quietly to themselves, the second group was told to speak into a recording while solving the puzzle, and the third group had an audience of their mother while figuring the puzzle out. The results prove the audience effect because “the ones who were talking to a meaningful audience-Mom-did best of all” (Thompson 55). By explaining this experiment in such great detail the viewers are more susceptible to caring about and understanding the main claim. As you can see, the end result ended up favoring Thompson’s claim which justifies the readers if they have any disagreements. After making this claim Thompson provides a rebuttal for the audience to consider. “In live, face-to-face situations, like sports or live music, the audience effect often makes runners or musicians perform better, but it can sometimes psych them out and make them choke, too” (Thompson 54) says Thompson. He is addressing the counterargument that sometimes the audience effect is not always a good thing. However, he does not expand on the opposing side well enough to fully get the reader to come to their senses on his side of the argument. This claim was overall very well rounded, had a good amount of evidence, and provided a rebuttal.
One of Thompson’s last claims is that when your thoughts become accessible to the public, it is easy for connections to bloom. Throughout this claim he makes several points about how these connections happen and what we benefit from them. This directly relates to the main focus of the chapter as a whole because it shows that technology is beneficial for this reason. Thompson goes on to state that lacking the internet leads to lack of different perspectives and knowledge from others. For example he states that “scientific journals and citation were a successful attempt to create a worldwide network, a mechanism for not just thinking in public but doing so in a connected way” (Thompson 61). This quote shows that being connected online has helped advance scientific studies by being connected. He chose to use facts as the type of evidence for this claim. It is very straightforward and gets the main point across in a very clear manner. It goes beyond advancing just scientific studies though. Sharing things online creates many communities for personal interests and more. Personally I agree with Thompson because I have experienced that when I put my thoughts out there and read others work it helps me have a better understanding of different writing techniques that I can use later in my writing pieces. Reading and writing is a ongoing process of learning and getting better. Without access to the internet we would not have the advantage of reading other peoples work so easily.
Throughout this chapter of Thompson’s book, he has many strengths but also some weaknesses to look at. He uses many persuasive strategies and evidence to bring together the effectiveness of the chapter. For example he uses many rhetoricals questions, facts, surveys, data, personal stories, and appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos. All of these strategies work together to make this chapter as persuasive and effective as possible. Thompson excelled at using rhetorical questions throughout the chapter. For example he asks “How much writing is that, precisely?” and “Is any of this writing good?” (Thompson 47-48) when providing evidence about how much we write on the daily. The use of these frequent rhetorical questions helps to shape the essay into a more efficient and persuasive one. It also is a good strategy to use because the readers have to pause throughout the reading and think about what is being asked. As for weaknesses, Thompson struggles with concrete evidence for one of his claims. When he states that writing on the internet opens doors for more connections, he struggles finding evidence that fully supports that claims. What little evidence that he does have is partially irrelevant and does not grasp the entire argument to the point where the readers are going to agree with him. Readers may think of many counter arguments for this claims because the evidence is not solid. Another one of his weaknesses is lack of clear rebuttals. Because he has three main claims, rebuttals are to be expected for nearly each one however, he leaves them out or makes them so small that readers may not even notice that there was a rebuttal. For example Thompson’s claim about the internet allowing us to write more now than we ever have before lacks a rebuttal. It would have been extremely important to include a rebuttal for this claim because many people have a lot to say about this claim. I think the reason Thompson left out rebuttals is because there aren’t many rebuttals to what he is initially arguing in the first place. I mean sure, a tremendous amount of the population think that technology is screwing us over, but I don’t think they ever thought of this perspective of it actually favoring us.
In conclusion, this chapter of Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think, does a good job in backing up his overall argument with many different strategies, evidence, and claims. He persuades the readers by making many important claims about how the use of the internet these days has become a writing outlet for people all over the entire world. His evidence, strategies, strengths, weaknesses, and rebuttals all work together to make a central argument against people like Nicholas Carr who believe the internet is making people in our generation less intelligent. Nicholas Carr is the author of the book “The Shallows” which entails many thoughts, ideas, and evidence to show how the internet is brainwashing today’s society. Thompson was brave for writing this book because most people, like Nicholas, think that the use of the internet has made our society become less informed and creative. All in all Clive Thompson’s writing contains all needed components to making a good persuasive argument.
Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. “They Say / I Say”: the Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.
Thompson, Clive. “Bio.” Smarter Than You Think, 2013, smarterthanyouthink.net/bio/.
Thompson, Clive. “Public Thinking.” Smarter Than You Think, Penguin Press, 2013, pp. 45–69.
Werry, Chris. Rhetoric & Writing Studies