One Project (4 Pages) & One Draft

Table of Contents


Major Writing Project 2:  Entering a Conversation (4 pages)

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Instructions:  Choose one of the sets of essays listed below (Carr and Thompson together make up a “set,” etc.).  Your essay should include summaries of both of the authors’ arguments (“they say”); your argument should point out how the authors agree and disagree; and your argument should include your own response to the issues the two essays raise (“I say”).  The “I say” is your own argument concerning the issues.  


– Make sure you include a naysayer to show possible objections to your own argument, and address the “so what” factor: why do

– Make sure you use proper formatting (MLA or APA style, double-spaced, Times or Times New Roman font, 12 point, paragraphs indented).  

– Make sure you have a proper heading at the top of the first page (name, etc.)

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– Your paper should be about 4 pages.  

– Plagiarism will not be tolerated.  

– I recommend you take a look at the Grading Guide (below), which explains how I will grade your papers.

Recommended structure:  For this paper you have four pages to work with and you need to include, in effect, five major parts:

1. Introduction: includes basic information about authors (brief), a very brief summary of authors’ ideas (a sentence or two), a brief statement of your argument or thesis statement (a sentence or two), and a brief explanation of why your argument matters (a sentence or two)

2. Summary of 2 authors, with quotes as evidence

3. Summary of how they agree/disagree; provide quotes if necessary

4. Your own opinion and your reasons for your opinion (which includes at least one naysayer); provide quotes as evidence

5. Conclusion:  includes a return sentence, a restatement of your argument, and a developed explanation of why your argument matters

Note that those are five parts, not paragraphs (exceptions: the introduction and the conclusion are usually one paragraph each).  What could this look like?  Here’s an example:  After the brief introductory paragraph (where you introduce your topic, basic information about your authors with brief summaries of authors’ ideas, a sense of your argument and perhaps why your argument matters), you might have a summary of one author (1 paragraph), then a summary of the second author (1 paragraph).  Then you might have one paragraph that explains how they agree or disagree (though you can already allude to that in the summary paragraphs through phrases like “Unlike Turkle, Wortham asserts that…”).  Note that the paragraph that explains how the two authors agree or disagree is still “they say,” since you’re not yet putting forward your own opinion on the issues.  At that point you’ll have written about 2 pages.  Then you write your own argument (“I say”) in relation to what they say (about a page and a half).  At that point you’ve written about 3.5 pages.  Then you end with one short concluding paragraph, where you wrap it up with a return sentence and again explain why it matters. 

Keep in mind: this way of structuring this assignment is only a suggestion; it doesn’t have to be exactly like that.  But hopefully this gives you an idea of what this kind of paper could look like.



Set 1: Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” 

Clive Thompson, “Smarter than You Think:  How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better” 

Set 2: Sherry Turkle, “No Need to Call” 

Jenna Wortham, “I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight.  On the App.”

Set 3: Michaela Cullington, “Does Texting Affect Writing?” 

Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted” 

Grading Guide: I will use the following grading guide to grade your papers.  Think of it as a “cheat sheet,” but without the “cheating” part.  It’ll help you figure out how to get a good grade on MWP 2. 

Introduction (10 points)

Includes basic information about the authors as well as the full titles of essays; includes a brief summary statement about essays; includes a clear thesis statement (summary of “I say” in relation to “They Say”).

“They say” inhabits world-view of each author (20 points)

Each summary does not agree or disagree with author (summary inhabits worldview of author); each summary uses sophisticated signal verbs to summarize author’s points; no listing of author’s points or “closest cliché” (pp. 31, 35, 33)

Quoting: Uses quotes correctly and appropriately (20 points)

Quotes used to present “proof of evidence” (p. 43) in summary of authors’ arguments — Quotes should not be “orphans” (p. 44) — Quotes should be framed appropriately (“quotation sandwich”) (p. 47) — Quotes should be Introduced with appropriate verb (p. 48) – Indicates page number of quote (p. 49)

“I say” clearly agrees, disagrees, or combination of agrees and disagrees (20 points)

Clear “I say” statement in introduction, placed in relation to authors – Clear statements of agreement, disagreement, or both (use at least one template per author on pp. 58, 60, 62-65) – Clearly distinguishes “they say” from “I say” – Clearly signals who is saying what: Uses at least one template from pp. 70-74 – “I say” includes clear reasons for argument that are not simply summaries of authors’ arguments – Clearly plants naysayer to support “I say” argument (use at least one template from pp. 81, 82,83-84, 88).

Clearly states why the argument matters (10 points)

Uses at least one “who cares?” template from pp. 94-95; Uses at least one “so what?” template from pp. 97-98, 100 — statement why argument matters should be included in either introductory paragraph or concluding paragraph (or both)

Conclusion (10 points)

Includes at least one “return sentence” in the conclusion to remind reader of what “they say” (p. 27-28); includes a restatement of thesis or “I say”

Editing and tone (10 points)

No editing errors (spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting); Uses proper tone (formal where appropriate, informal where appropriate)

what they’re saying about “they say / i say”

“Many students say that it is the first book they’ve found that actually helps them with writing in all disciplines.”

—Laura Sonderman, Marshall University

“A brilliant book. . . . It’s like a membership card in the aca- demic club.” —Eileen Seifert, DePaul University

“This book demystifies rhetorical moves, tricks of the trade that many students are unsure about. It’s reasonable, helpful, nicely written . . . and hey, it’s true. I would have found it immensely helpful myself in high school and college.”

—Mike Rose, University of California, Los Angeles

“The argument of this book is important—that there are ‘moves’ to academic writing . . . and that knowledge of them can be generative. The template format is a good way to teach and demystify the moves that matter. I like this book a lot.”

—David Bartholomae, University of Pittsburgh

“Students need to walk a fine line between their work and that of others, and this book helps them walk that line, providing specific methods and techniques for introducing, explaining, and integrating other voices with their own ideas.”

—Libby Miles, University of Vermont

“A beautifully lucid way to approach argument—different from any rhetoric I’ve ever seen.”

—Anne-Marie Thomas, Austin Community College, Riverside

“It offers students the formulas we, as academic writers, all carry in our heads.” —Karen Gardiner, University of Alabama

“The best tribute to ‘They Say / I Say’ I’ve heard is this, from a student: ‘This is one book I’m not selling back to the bookstore.’ Nods all around the room. The students love this book.”

—Christine Ross, Quinnipiac University

“What effect has ‘They Say’ had on my students’ writing? They are finally entering the Burkian Parlor of the university. This book uncovers the rhetorical conventions that transcend dis- ciplinary boundaries, so that even freshmen, newcomers to the academy, are immediately able to join in the conversation.”

—Margaret Weaver, Missouri State University

“It’s the anti-composition text: Fun, creative, humorous, bril- liant, effective.”

—Perry Cumbie, Durham Technical Community College

“This book explains in clear detail what skilled writers take for granted.” —John Hyman, American University

“The ability to engage with the thoughts of others is one of the most important skills taught in any college-level writing course, and this book does as good a job teaching that skill as any text I have ever encountered.” —William Smith, Weatherford College

“Students find this book tremendously helpful—they report that it has ‘demystified’ academic writing for them.”

—Karen Gocsik, University of California at San Diego

“I love ‘They Say / I Say,’ and more importantly, so do my students.” —Catherine Hayter, Saddleback College

“ ‘They Say / I Say’ reveals the language of academic writing in a way that students seem to understand and incorporate more easily than they do with other writing books. Instead of a list of don’ts, the book provides a catalog of do’s, which is always more effective.”

—Amy Lea Clemons, Francis Marion University

“This book makes the implicit rules of academic writing explicit for students. It’s the book I really wish I’d had when I was an undergraduate.”

—Steven Bailey, Central Michigan University


“THEY SAY I SAY” The Move s Tha t Ma t t e r

i n Academ i c Wr i t i n g




both of the University of Illinois at Chicago

B w . w . n o r t o n & c o m p a n y

n e w y o r k | l o n d o n

For Aaron David

W. W. Norton & Company has been independent since its founding in 1923, when William Warder Norton and Mary D. Herter Norton first published lectures delivered at the People’s Institute, the adult education division of New York City’s Cooper Union. The firm soon expanded its program beyond the Institute, publishing books by celebrated academics from America and abroad. By mid-century, the two major pillars of Norton’s publishing program—trade books and college texts—were firmly established. In the 1950s, the Norton family transferred control of the company to its employees, and today—with a staff of four hundred and a comparable number of trade, college, and professional titles published each year—W. W. Norton & Company stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees.

Copyright © 2018, 2017, 2014, 2010, 2009, 2006 by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

Permission to use copyrighted material is included in the credits section of this book, which begins on page 295.

ISBN 978-0-393-63167-8

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110

W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 15 Carlisle Street, London W1D 3BS

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0



preface to the fourth edition ix

preface xiii Demystifying Academic Conversation

introduction 1 Entering the Conversation


one “they say” 19 Starting with What Others Are Saying

two “her point is” 30 The Art of Summarizing

three “as he himself puts it” 43 The Art of Quoting

PART 2 . “ I SAY”

four “yes / no / okay, but” 53 Three Ways to Respond

five “and yet” 67 Distinguishing What You Say from What They Say

six “skeptics may object” 77 Planting a Naysayer in Your Text

seven “so what? who cares?” 91 Saying Why It Matters

v i


eight “as a result” 101 Connecting the Parts

nine “you mean i can just say it that way?” 117 Academic Writing Doesn’t Mean Setting Aside Your Own Voice

ten “but don’t get me wrong” 131 The Art of Metacommentary

eleven “he says contends” 141 Using the Templates to Revise


twelve “i take your point” 162 Entering Class Discussions

thirteen don’t make them scroll up 166 Entering Online Conversations

fourteen what’s motivating this writer? 176 Reading for the Conversation

fifteen “on closer examination” 187 Entering Conversations about Literature

sixteen “the data suggest” 205 Writing in the Sciences

seventeen “analyze this” 224 Writing in the Social Sciences



v i i

r e a d i n g s 243

Don’t Blame the Eater 245 David Zinczenko

Hidden Intellectualism 248 Gerald Graff

“Rise of the Machines” Is Not a Likely Future 256 Michael Littman

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 261 Michelle Alexander

Everything That Rises Must Converge 275 Flannery O’Connor

credits 295

acknowledgments 297

index of templates 309

i x

preface to the fourth edition


Since it was first published over a decade ago, this book has been dedicated to the idea that our own views are most thoughtfully formed in conversation with the views of others, including views that differ from our own. When students work with one of this book’s templates like “They say that , and I concede . But ,” they see their beliefs from another side and, in our view, are therefore able to produce more compelling arguments. As the twenty-first century unfolds, however, the increas- ingly polarized state of our society is making it harder to listen to those who see things differently than we do. The wider our divisions become, the harder it is to find anyone who is will- ing to seriously consider viewpoints that oppose their own. Too often we either avoid difficult discussions altogether, or we talk only with like-minded people, who often reinforce our pre-existing assumptions and insulate us from serious challenge. In this fourth edition of our book, therefore, we double down in a variety of ways on the importance of getting outside our isolated spheres and listening to others, even when we may not like what we hear.



what’s new in the book

New materials in the introduction reinforce the importance of listening carefully to what others say (what “they say”) and summarizing it in a way that does it justice, treating our own ideas (what “I say”) not as uncontestable givens but as entries in a conversation or a debate in which participants may agree, agree up to a point, or disagree.

A new chapter on entering online conversations further underscores the importance of referencing what “they say” when responding to others on blogs, class discussion boards, and the like. In this chapter, which offers more practical advice on online writing than the more theoretical chapter it replaces, we argue that, while digital technologies have transformed class- rooms and connected writers in unprecedented ways, genuine conversation is all too rare. Too many online writers, instead of actually responding to others, end up talking past one another in discrete monologues that leave it unclear who or what has motivated them to write. This chapter suggests why online writ- ing may be especially prone to this problem and offers tech- niques for overcoming it.

A substantially revised chapter on academic language (now called “You Mean I Can Just Say It That Way?”) under- scores the need to bridge spheres that are too often kept sepa- rate: everyday language and academic writing. This chapter encourages students to draw on their everyday voices in their academic writing rather than set them aside. By translating academic claims into everyday language, we show, students are better able to clarify their ideas for readers and even for themselves.

x i

Preface to the Fourth Edition

Many new model examples—fifteen in all—from a wide range of authors, including Rebecca Goldstein, Deborah Tannen, Charles Murray, Nicholas Carr, and Michelle Alexander, among others, highlight the many different contexts for aca- demic conversations.

A substantially revised and updated chapter on writing in the social sciences reflects a broader range of writing assign- ments, with examples from academic publications in sociology, psychology, and political science.

New documented readings from two different fields—an essay by the computer scientist Michael Littman and a selec- tion from The New Jim Crow by the legal scholar Michelle Alexander—show how the rhetorical moves taught in this book work across disciplines.

Even as we have revised and added to “They Say / I Say,” our basic goals remain unchanged: to demystify academic reading and writing by identifying the key moves of persuasive argu- ment and representing those moves in forms that students can put into practice. We hope this fourth edition will get us even closer to these goals, equipping students with the writing skills they need to enter the academic world and beyond.

what’s online

Online tutorials give students hands-on practice recognizing and using the rhetorical moves taught in this book both as readers and writers. Each tutorial helps students read a full essay with an eye on these moves and then respond to a writing prompt using templates from the book.

x i i

They Say / I Blog. Updated monthly, this blog provides up-to- the-minute readings on the issues covered in the book, along with questions that prompt students to literally join the con- versations. Check it out at

Instructor’s Guide. Now available in print, the guide includes expanded in-class activities, sample syllabi, summaries of each chapter and reading, and a chapter on using the online resources, including They Say / I Blog.

Ebook. Searchable, portable, and interactive. The complete textbook for a fraction of the price. Students can interact with the text—take notes, bookmark, search, and highlight. The ebook can be viewed on—and synced between—all computers and mobile devices.

InQuizitive for Writers. Adaptive, game-like exercises help students practice editing, focusing especially on the errors that matter.

Coursepack. Norton resources you can add to your online, hybrid, or lecture course—all at no cost. Norton Coursepacks work within your existing learning management system; there’s no new system to learn, and access is free and easy. Customizable resources include assignable writing prompts from theysayiblog. com, quizzes on grammar and documentation, documentation guides, model student essays, and more.

Find it all at or contact your Norton representative for more information.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?


“DAVE, STOP. STOP, WILL You? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial “brain.” “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncom- fortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going-so far as I can tell-but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can

NICHOLAS CARR writes frequently on issues of technology and culture.

His books include The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (2008), The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010), The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us (2014) and Utopia Is Creepy (2016). Carr also has written for periodicals includ-

ing the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street journal , and

Wired, and he blogs at This essay appeared originally as

the cover article in the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic.


Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Dave (Keir Dullea) removes HAL’s “brain” in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of librar- ies can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to



link to link. (Unlike footnotes , to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they

propel you toward them.) For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal

medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theo- rist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with s reading to friends and acquaintances-literary types, most of them-many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I think has



Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of com- puters in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

Anecdotes alone don’t prove much. And we still await the long-term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cogni- tion. But a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, sug- gests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research pro- gram, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consor- tium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report:



It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense;

indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging

as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages

and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go

online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to men- tion the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking- perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic char- acters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains. Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry


Is Google Making Us Stupid?

for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter- 10 a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was

Friedrich Nietzsche and his Mailing-Hansen Writing Ball.



able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language

often depend on the quality of pen and paper.” “You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment

takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to apho- risms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” accord- ing to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly,

altering the way it functions.” As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our

“intellectual technologies”- the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities-we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies. The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 14th century, provides a compelling example. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford described how the clock


Is Google Making Us Stupid?

“disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.”

The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being 15 the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the concep- tion of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.

The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operat- ing “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.

The Internet promises to have particularly far-reaching effects on cognition. In a paper published in 1936, the British mathema- tician Alan Turing proved that a digital computer, which at the time existed only as a theoretical machine, could be programmed to perform the function of any other information-processing device. And that’s what we’re seeing today. The Internet, an immeasur- ably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock,

4 3 1


our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our tele-

phone, and our radio and TV. When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created

in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyper- links, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a news- paper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse

our concentration. The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer

screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, the New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to

play by the new-media rules. Never has a communications system played so many roles in 20

our lives–or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts- as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.

About the same time that Nietzsche started using his type- writer, an earnest young man named Frederick Winslow Taylor


Is Google Making Us Stupid?

carried · a stopwatch into the Midvale Steel plant in Phila- delphia and began a historic series of experiments aimed at improving the efficiency of the plant’s machinists. With the approval of Midvale’s owners, he recruited a group of factory hands, set them to work on various metalworking machines, and recorded and timed their every movement as well as the operations of the machines. By breaking down every job into a sequence of small, discrete steps and then testing different ways of performing each one, Taylor created a set of precise instructions-an “algorithm,” we might say today-for how each worker should work. Midvale’s employees grumbled about the strict new regime, claiming that it turned them into little more than automatons, but the factory’s productivity soared.

More than a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, the Industrial Revolution had at last found its philosophy

A testing engineer (possibly Taylor) observes a Midvale Steel worker c. 1885.



and its philosopher. Taylor’s tight industrial choreography-his “system,” as he liked to call it-was embraced by manufactur- ers throughout the country and, in time, around the world. Seeking maximum speed, maximum efficiency, and maximum output, factory owners used time-and-motion studies to orga- nize their work and configure the jobs of their workers. The goal, as Taylor defined it in his celebrated 1911 treatise, The Principles of Scientific Management, was to identify and adopt, for every job, the “one best method” of work and thereby to effect “the gradual substitution of science for rule of thumb throughout the mechanic arts.” Once his system was applied to all acts of manual labor, Taylor assured his followers, it would bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a utopia of perfect efficiency. “In the past the man has been first,” he declared; “in the future the system must be first.”

Taylor’s system is still very much with us; it remains the ethic of industrial manufacturing. And now, thanks to the growing power that computer engineers and software coders wield over our intellectual lives, Taylor’s ethic is beginning to govern the realm of the mind as well. The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the “one best method”- the perfect algorithm-to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work.”

Google’s headquarters, in Mountain View, California-the Googleplex-is the Internet’s high church, and the religion practiced inside its walls is Taylorism. Google, says its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, is “a company that’s founded around the science of measurement,” and it is striving to “systematize everything” it does. Drawing on the terabytes of behavioral data


Is Google Making Us Stupid?

The Googleplex.

it collects through its search engine and other sites, it carries out thousands of experiments a day, according to the Harvard Business Review, and it uses the results to refine the algorithms that increasingly control how people find information and extract meaning from it. What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind.

The company has declared that its mission is “to organize zs the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” In Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency. The more pieces of information we can “access” and the faster we can extract their gist, the more productive we become as thinkers.

Where does it end? Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the gifted young men who founded Google while pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford, speak frequently of their desire to tum their search engine into an artificial intelli- gence, a HAL-like machine that might be connected directly to



our brains. “The ultimate search engine is something as smart as people-or smarter,” Page said in a speech a few years back. “For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence.” In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and

to do it on a large scale.” Such an ambition is a natural one, even an admirable one,

for a pair of math whizzes with vast quantities of cash at their disposal and a small army of computer scientists in their employ. A fundamentally scientific enterprise, Google is motivated by a desire to use technology, in Eric Schmidt’s words, “to solve problems that have never been solved before,” and artificial intelligence is the hardest problem out there. Why wouldn’t

Brin and Page want to be the ones to crack it? Still, their easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if

our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.

The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data- processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web–the more links we click and pages we view-the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed


Is Google Making Us Stupid?

us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link-the more crumbs the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourag~ leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.

Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glo- 30 rify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong- the new technology did often have the effects he feared-but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).

The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian human- ist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less stu- dious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious author- ity, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky


See pp. 31-33 for tips on

putting yourself In their shoes .


notes, “Most of the arguments made against the print- ing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings

that the printed word would deliver. So, yes, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps

those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostal- gists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data- stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom. Then again, the Net isn’t the alphabet, and although it may replace the printing press, it produces something altogether different. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intel- lectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.

If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture. In a recent essay, the playwright Richard

Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake:

I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my

ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of

the highly educated and articulate personality-a man or woman

who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique

version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now) I see within

us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density

with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information

overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”


Is Google Making Us Stupid?

As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “‘pancake people’- spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast net- work of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”

I’m haunted by that scene in 2001. What makes it so poi- 35 gnant, and so weird, is the computer’s emotional response to the disassembly of its mind: its despair as one circuit after another goes dark, its childlike pleading with the astronaut-“! can feel it. I can feel it. I’m afraid”-and its final reversion to what can only be called a state of innocence. HAL’s outpouring of feel- ing contrasts with the emotionlessness that characterizes the human figures in the film, who go about their business with an almost robotic efficiency. Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 200 I, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

Joining the Conversation

I. “Is Google making us stupid?” How does Nicholas Carr answer this question, and what evidence does he provide to support his answer?

2. What possible objections to his own position does Carr introduce-and why do you think he does so? How effec- tively does he counter these objections?

3. Carr begins this essay by quoting an exchange between HAL

and Dave, a supercomputer and an astronaut in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey-and he concludes by reflecting on



that scene. What happens to HAL and Dave, and how does this outcome support his argument?

4. How does Carr use transitions to connect the parts of his text and to help readers follow his train of thought? (See Chapter 8 to help you think about how transitions help

develop an argument.) 5. In his essay on pages 441-61, Clive Thompson reaches a

different conclusion than Carr does, saying that “At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, com- municate more. At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance … what is happening is deeply positive.” Write a paragraph or two discussing how Carr might respond. Wnat would he agree with, and what would he disagree with?

6. This article sparked widespread debate and conversation when it first appeared in 2008, and the discussion contin- ues today. Go to and click on “Are We in a Race against the Machine?” to read some of what’s been

written on the topic recently.


Smarter Than You Think:

How Technology Is Changing

Our Minds for the Better


WHo’s BETTER AT .CHESS–computers or humans? The question has long fascinated observers, perhaps because

chess seems like the ultimate display of human thought: the players sit like Rodin’s Thinker, silent, brows furrowed, mak- ing lightning-fast calculations. It’s the quintessential cognitive activity, logic as an extreme sport.

So the idea of a machine outplaying a human has always provoked both excitement and dread. In the eighteenth cen- tury, Wolfgang von Kempelen caused a stir with his clockwork Mechanical Turk-an automaton that played an eerily good game of chess, even beating Napoleon Bonaparte. The spec- tacle was so unsettling that onlookers cried out in astonishment

CLIVE THOMPSON is a journalist and blogger who writes for the New York Times Magazine and Wired. He was awarded a 2002 Knight Science

Journalism Fellowship at MIT. He blogs at This

essay is adapted from his book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology

Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (2013) .

4 41


that scene. What happens to HAL and Dave, and how does

this outcome support his argument? 4. How does Carr use transitions to connect the parts of his

text and to help readers follow his train of thought? (See Chapter 8 to help you think about how transitions help

develop an argument.) 5. In his essay on pages 441-61, Clive Thompson reaches a

different conclusion than Carr does, saying that “At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, com- municate more. At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance .. . what is happening is deeply positive.” Write a paragraph or two discussing how Carr might respond. Wnat would he agree

with, and what would he disagree with? 6. This article sparked widespread debate and conversation

when it first appeared in 2008, and the discussion contin- ues today. Go to and click on “Are We in a Race against the Machine?” to read some of what’s been

written on the topic recently.


Smarter Than You Think:

How Technology Is Changing

Our Minds for the Better


WHo’s BETTER AT .CHESs–computers or humans? The question has long fascinated observers, perhaps because

chess seems like the ultimate display of human thought: the players sit like Rodin’s Thinker, silent, brows furrowed, mak- ing lightning-fast calculations. It’s the quintessential cognitive activity, logic as an extreme sport.

So the idea of a machine outplaying a human has always provoked both excitement and dread. In the eighteenth cen- tury, Wolfgang von Kempelen caused a stir with his clockwork Mechanical Turk-an automaton that played an eerily good game of chess, even beating Napoleon Bonaparte. The spec- tacle was so unsettling that onlookers cried out in astonishment

CLIVE THOMPSON is a journalist and blogger who writes for the New

Y ark Times Magazine and Wired. He was awarded a 2002 Knight Science

Journalism Fellowship at MIT. He blogs at This

essay is adapted from his book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology

Is Changing Our Minds for the Better (2013).

4 41


The Thinker, by French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) .

4 42

Smarter Than You Think

when the Turk’s gears first clicked into motion. But the gears, and the machine, were fake; in reality, the automaton was con- trolled by a chess savant cunningly tucked inside the wooden cabinet. In 1915, a Spanish inventor unveiled a genuine, honest-to-goodness robot that could actually play chess-a simple endgame involving only three pieces, anyway. A writer for Scientific American fretted that the inventor “Would Sub- stitute Machinery for the Human Mind.”

Eighty years later, in 1997, this intellectual standoff clanked to a dismal conclusion when world champion Garry Kasparov was defeated by IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer in a tourna- ment of six games. Faced with a machine that could calcu- late two hundred million positions a second, even Kasparov’s notoriously aggressive and nimble style broke down. In its final game, Deep Blue used such a clever ploy-tricking Kasparov into letting the computer sacrifice a knight-that it trounced him in nineteen moves. “I lost my fighting spirit,” Kasparov said afterward, pronouncing himself “emptied completely.” Riveted, the journalists announced a winner. The cover of Newsweek proclaimed the event “The Brain’s Last Stand.” Doom-sayers predicted that chess itself was over. If machines could out-think even Kasparov, why would the game remain interesting? Why would anyone bother playing? What’s the challenge?

Then Kasparov did something unexpected.

The truth is, Kasparov wasn’t completely surprised by Deep Blue’s victory. Chess grand masters had predicted for years that computers would eventually beat humans, because they under- stood the different ways humans and computers play. Human chess players learn by spending years studying the world’s best opening moves and endgames; they play thousands of games,



slowly amassing a capacious, in-brain library of which strategies triumphed and which flopped. They analyze their opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their moods. When they look at the board, that knowledge manifests as intuition-a eureka moment when they suddenly spy the best possible move.

In contrast, a chess-playing computer has no intuition at all. It analyzes the game using brute force; it inspects the pieces currently on the board, then calculates all options. It prunes away moves that lead to losing positions, then takes ~e pr~m­ ising ones and runs the calculations again. After dm~g th.ts a few times-and looking five or seven moves out-lt arrtves at a few powerful plays. The machine’s way of “thinking” is fundamentally unhuman. Humans don’t sit around crunching every possible move, because our brains can’t hold that much information at once. If you go eight moves out in a game of chess, there are more possible games than there are stars in our galaxy. If you total up every game possible? It outnumbers the atoms in the known universe. Ask chess grand masters, “How many moves can you see out?” and they’ll likely deliver the answer attributed to the Cuban grand master Jose Raul

Capablanca: “One, the best one.” The fight between computers and humans in chess was, as

Kasparov knew, ultimately about speed. Once computers could see all games roughly seven moves out, they would wear hum~s down. A person might make a mistake; the computer wouldn t. Brute force wins. As he pondered Deep Blue, Kasparov mused

on these different cognitive approaches. It gave him an audacious idea. What would happen if,

instead of competing against one another, humans and com- puters collaborated? What if they played on teams together- one computer and a human facing off against another human and a computer? That way, he theorized, each might benefit


Smarter Than You Think

from the other’s peculiar powers. The computer would bring the lightning-fast-if uncreative-ability to analyze zillions of moves, while the human would bring intuition and insight, the ability to read opponents and psych them out. Together, they would form what chess players later called a centaur: a hybrid beast endowed with the strengths of each.

In June 1998, Kasparov played the first public game of 10 human-computer collaborative chess, which he dubbed “advanced chess,” against Veselin Topalov, a top-rated grand master. Each used a regular computer with off-the-shelf chess software and databases of hundreds of thousands of chess games, including some of the best ever played. They considered what moves the computer recommended, they examined historical databases to see if anyone had ever been in a situation like theirs before. Then they used that information to help plan. Each game was limited to sixty minutes, so they didn’t have infinite time to consult the machines; they had to work swiftly.

Kasparov found the experience “as disturbing as it was excit- ing.” Freed from the need to rely exclusively on his memory, he was able to focus more on the creative texture of his play. It was, he realized, like learning to be a race-car driver: He had to learn how to drive the computer, as it were–developing a split-second sense of which strategy to enter into the computer for assessment, when to stop an unpromising line of inquiry, and when to accept or ignore the computer’s advice. “Just as a good Formula One driver really knows his own car, so did we have to learn the way the computer program worked,” he later wrote. Topalov, as it turns out, appeared to be an even better Formula One “thinker” than Kasparov. On purely human terms, Kasparov was a stronger player; a month before, he’d trounced T opalov 4- 0. But the centaur play evened the odds. This time, Topalov fought Kasparov to a 3-3 draw.



Garry Kasparov (right) plays Veselin Topalov (left) in Sofia, Bulgaria, on

May 3, 1998.

In 2005, there was a “freestyle” chess tournament in which a team could consist of any number of humans or comput- ers, in any combination. Many teams consisted of chess grand masters who’d won plenty of regular, human-only tournaments, achieving chess scores of 2,500 (out of 3,000). But the winning team didn’t include any grand masters at all. It consisted of two young New England men, Steven Cramton and Zackary Stephen (who were comparative amateurs, with chess rankings

down around 1,400 to 1,700), and their computers. Why could these relative amateurs beat chess players with far

more experience and raw talent? Because Cramton and Stephen were expert at collaborating with computers. They knew when to rely on human smarts and when to rely on the machine’s advice. Working at rapid speed-these games, too, were limited


Smarter Than You Think

to sixty minutes-they would brainstorm moves, then check to see what the computer thought, while also scouring databases to see if the strategy had occurred in previous games. They used three different computers simultaneously, running five different pieces of software; that way they could cross-check whether different programs agreed on the same move. But they wouldn’t simply accept what the machine accepted, nor would they merely mimic old games. They selected moves that were low-rated by the computer if they thought they would rattle their opponents psychologically.

In essence, a new form of chess intelligence was emerging. You could rank the teams like this: ( 1) a chess grand master was good; (2) a chess grand master playing with a laptop was better. But even that laptop-equipped grand master could be beaten by (3) relative newbies, if the amateurs were extremely skilled at integrating machine assistance. “Human strategic guidance combined with the tactical acuity of a computer,” Kasparov concluded, “was overwhelming.”

Better yet, it turned out these smart amateurs could even IS outplay a supercomputer on the level of Deep Blue. One of the entrants that Cramton and Stephen trounced in the freestyle chess tournament was a version of Hydra, the most powerful chess computer in existence at the time; indeed, it was prob- ably faster and stronger than Deep Blue itself. Hydra’s owners let it play entirely by itself, using raw logic and speed to fight its opponents. A few days after the advanced chess event, Hydra destroyed the world’s seventh-ranked grand master in a man-versus-machine chess tournament.

But Cramton and Stephen beat Hydra. They did it using their own talents and regular Dell and Hewlett-Packard com- puters, of the type you probably had sitting on your desk in 2005, with software you could buy for sixty dollars. All of which



brings us back to our original question here: Which is smarter

at chess-humans or computers?

Neither. It’s the two together, working side by side.

We’re all playing advanced chess these days. We just haven’t

learned to appreciate it. Our tools are everywhere, linked with our minds, working zo

in tandem. Search engines answer our most obscure questions; status updates give us an ESP-like awareness of those around us; online collaborations let far-flung collaborators tackle prob- lems too tangled for any individual. We’re becoming less like Rodin’s Thinker and more like Kasparov’s centaurs. This trans- formation is rippling through every part of our cognition- how we learn, how we remember, and how we act upon that knowledge emotionally, intellectually, and politically. As with Cramton and Stephen, these tools can make even the amateurs among us radically smarter than we’d be on our own, assuming (and this is a big assumption) we understand how they work. At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more communicate more. At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance, I’d

argue, what is happening is deeply positive .. · · Th ” d d . d” In a sense, this is an ancient story. e exten e mm

theory of cognition argues that the reason humans are so intel- lectually dominant is that we’ve always outsourced bits of cogni- tion, using tools to scaffold our thinking into ever-more-rarefied realms. Printed books amplified our memory. Inexpensive paper and reliable pens made it possible to externalize our thoughts quickly. Studies show that our eyes zip around the ~age w~~le performing long division on paper, using the handwntten dtgtts as a form of prosthetic short-term memory. “These resources


Smarter Than You Think

enable us to pursue manipulations and juxtapositions of ideas and data that would quickly baffle the unaugmented brain,” as Andy Clark, a philosopher of the extended mind, writes.

Granted, it can be unsettling to realize how much thinking already happens outside our skulls. Culturally, we revere the Rodin ideal-the belief that genius breakthroughs come from ~ur gray matter alone. The physicist Richard Feynman once got mto an argument about this with the historian Charles Weiner. F~ynman .understood the extended mind; he knew that writing hts equattons and ideas on paper was crucial to his thought. But when Weiner looked over a pile of Feynman’s notebooks, he called them a wonderful “record of his day-to-day work.” No, no, Feynman replied testily. They weren’t a record of his thinking process. They were his thinking process:

“I actually did the work on the paper,” he said.

“Well,” Weiner said, “the work was done in your head, but the record of it is still here.”

“No, it’s not a record, not really. It’s working. You have to work on paper and this is the paper. Okay?”

Every new tool shapes the way we think, as well as what we think about. The printed word helped make our cognition linear and abstract, along with vastly enlarging our stores of knowledge. Newspapers shrank the world; then the telegraph shrank it even n:ore dramatically. With every innovation, cultural prophets btckered over whether we were facing a technological apocalypse or a utopia. Depending on which Victorian-age pundit you asked, the telegraph was either going to usher in an era of world peace (“I.t i~’ impossible that old prejudices and hostilities should longer extst, as Charles F. Briggs and Augustus Maverick intoned) or drown us in a Sargasso of idiotic trivia (“We are eager to tunnel



under the Atlantic … but perchance the first news that will leak

through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough,” as Thoreau opined). Neither prediction was quite right, of course, yet neither was quite wrong. The one thing that both apocalyptics and utopians understand and agree upon is that every new technology pushes us toward new forms of behavior while nudging us away from older, familiar ones. 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. What are the central biases of today’s digital tools? There are

many, but I see three big ones that have a huge impact on our cognition. First, they allow for prodigious external memory: smart- phones, hard drives, cameras, and sensors routinely record more information than any tool before them. We’re shifting from a stance of rarely recording our ideas and the events of our lives to doing it habitually. Second, today’s tools make it easier for us to find connections-between ideas, pictures, people, bits of news- that were previously invisible. Third, they encourage a superfluity of communication and publishing. This last feature has many surprising effects that are often ill understood. Any economist can tell you that when you suddenly increase the availability of

a resource, people do more things with it, which also means they do increasingly unpredictable things. As electricity became cheap and ubiquitous in the West, its role expanded from things you’d expect- like night-time lighting-to the unexpected and seem- ingly trivial: battery-driven toy trains, electric blenders, vibrators. The superfluity of communication today has produced everything from a rise in crowd-organized projects like Wikipedia to curious new forms of expression: television-show recaps, map-based story-

telling, discussion threads that spin out of a photo posted to a


Smarter Than You Think

smartphone app, Amazon product-review threads wittily hijacked for political satire. Now, none of these three digital biases is immu- table, because they’re the product of sofrware and hardware, and can easily be altered or ended if the architects of today’s tools (often corporate and governmental) decide to regulate the tools or find they’re not profitable enough. But right now, these big effects dominate our current and near-term landscape.

In one sense, these three shifts-infinite memory, dot 25 connecting, explosive publishing-are screamingly obvious to anyone who’s ever used a computer. Yet they also some- how constantly surprise us by producing ever-new “tools for thought” (to use the writer Howard Rheingold’s lovely phrase) that upend our mental habits in ways we never expected and often don’t apprehend even as they take hold. Indeed, these phenomena have already woven themselves so deeply into the lives of people around the globe that it’s difficult to stand back and take account of how much things have changed and why. While [here I map] out what I call the future of thought, it’s also frankly rooted in the present, because many parts of our future have already arrived, even if they are only dimly understood. As the sci-fi author William Gibson famously quipped: “The future is already here-it’s just not very evenly distributed.” This is an attempt to understand what’s happening to us right now, the better to see where our augmented thought is headed. Rather than dwell in abstractions, like so many marketers and pundits- not to mention the creators of technology, who are often remarkably poor at predicting how people will use their tools- ! focus more on the actual experiences of real people.

To provide a concrete example of what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at something simple and immediate: my activities while writing the pages you’ve just read.

4 51


As I was working, I often realized I couldn’t quite remember a detail and discovered that my notes were incomplete. So I’d zip over to a search engine. (Which chess piece did Deep Blue sacrifice when it beat Kasparov! The knight!) I also pushed some of my thinking out into the open: I blogged admiringly about the Spanish chess-playing robot from 1915, and within min- utes commenters offered smart critiques. (One pointed out that the chess robot wasn’t that impressive because it was playing an endgame that was almost impossible to lose: the robot started with a rook and a king, while the human opponent had only a mere king.) While reading Kasparov’s book How Life Imitates Chess on my Kindle, I idly clicked on “popular highlights” to see what passages other readers had found interesting-and wound up becoming fascinated by a section on chess strategy I’d only lightly skimmed myself. To understand centaur play better, I read long, nuanced threads on chess-player discus- sion groups, effectively eavesdropping on conversations of people who know chess far better than I ever will. (Chess players who follow the new form of play seem divided-some think advanced chess is a grim sign of machines’ taking over the game, and others think it shows that the human mind is much more valuable than computer software.) I got into a long instant-messaging session with my wife, during which I realized that I’d explained the gist of advanced chess better than I had in my original draft, so I cut and pasted that explanation into my notes. As for the act of writing itself? Like most writers, I constantly have to fight the procrastinator’s urge to meander online, idly checking Twitter links and Wikipedia entries in a dreamy but pointless haze-until I look up in horror and realize I’ve lost two hours of work, a missing-time experience redolent of a UFO abduction. So I’d switch my word processor into full-screen mode, fading my computer desktop to black so


Smarter Than You Think

I could see nothing but the page, giving me temporary mental peace.

[Let’s] explore each of these trends. First off, there’s the emergence of omnipresent computer storage, which is upend- ing the way we remember, both as individuals and as a cul- ture. Then there’s the advent of “public thinking”: the ability to broadcast our ideas and the catalytic effect that has both inside and outside our minds. We’re becoming more conversa- tional 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. But at its best (which, I’d argue, is surprisingly often), it’s a thrilling develop- ment, reigniting ancient traditions of dialogue and debate. At the same time, there’s been an explosion of new forms of expres- sion that were previously too expensive for everyday thought- like video, mapping, or data crunching. Our social awareness is shifting, too, as we develop ESP-like “ambient awareness,” a persistent sense of what others are doing and thinking. On a social level, this expands our ability to understand the people we care about. On a civic level, it helps dispel traditional politi- cal problems like “pluralistic ignorance,” catalyzing political action, as in the Arab Spring.

Are these changes good or bad for us? If you asked me twenty years ago, when I first started writing about technology, I’d have said “bad.” In the early 1990s, I believed that as people migrated online, society’s worst urges might be uncorked: pseudonymity would poison online conversation, gossip and trivia would domi- nate, and cultural standards would collapse. Certainly seep. es for some of those predictions have come true, as anyone ways to make

the “l”m of two who’s wandered into an angry political forum knows. minds” move. But the truth is, while I predicted the bad stuff, I didn’t fore- see the good stuff. And what a torrent we have: Wikipedia, a



global forest of eloquent bloggers, citizen journalism, political fact-checking–or even the way status-update tools like Twitter have produced a renaissance in witty, aphoristic, haikuesque expression. If [I accentuate] the positive, that’s in part because we’ve been so flooded with apocalyptic warnings of late. We need a new way to talk clearly about the rewards and pleasures of our digital experiences–one that’s rooted in our lived experi- ence and also detangled from the hype of Silicon Valley.

The other thing that makes me optimistic about our cog- JO nitive future is how much it resembles our cognitive past. In the sixteenth century, humanity faced a printed-paper wave of information overload-with the explosion of books that began with the codex and went into overdrive with Gutenberg’s movable type. As the historian Ann Blair notes, scholars were alarmed: How would they be able to keep on top of the flood of human expression? Who would separate the junk from what was worth keeping? The mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz bemoaned “that horrible mass of books which keeps on grow- ing,” which would doom the quality writers to “the danger of general oblivion” and produce “a return to barbarism.” Thank- fully, he was wrong. Scholars quickly set about organizing the new mental environment by clipping their favorite passages from books and assembling them into huge tomes-florilegia, bouquets of text-so that readers could sample the best parts. They were basically blogging, going through some of the sa~e arguments modem bloggers go through. (Is it enough to cltp a passage, or do you also have to verify that what the author wrote was true? It was debated back then, as it is today.) The past turns out to be oddly reassuring, because a pattern emerges. Each time we’re faced with bewildering new thinking tools, we panic-then quickly set about deducing how they can be used

to help us work, meditate, and create.


Smarter Than You Think

History also shows that we generally improve and refine our tools to make them better. Books, for example, weren’t always as well designed as they are now. In fact, the earliest ones were, by modem standards, practically unusable–often devoid of the navigational aids we now take for granted, such as indexes, paragraph breaks, or page numbers. It took decades-centuries, even-for the book to be redesigned into a more flexible cogni- tive tool, as suitable for quick reference as it is for deep reading. This is the same path we’ll need to tread with our digital tools. It’s why we need to understand not just the new abilities our tools give us today, but where they’re still deficient and how they ought to improve.

I have one caveat to offer. If you were hoping to read about the neuroscience of our brains and how technology is “rewiring” them, [I] will disappoint you.

This goes against the grain of modem discourse, I real- ize. In recent years, people interested in how we think have become obsessed with our brain chemistry. We’ve marveled at the ability of brain scanning-picturing our brain’s electrical activity or blood flow-to provide new clues as to what parts of the brain are linked to our behaviors. Some people panic that our brains are being deformed on a physiological level by today’s technology: spend too much time flipping between windows and skimming text instead of reading a book, or interrupting your conversations to read text messages, and pretty soon you won’t be able to concentrate on anything- and if you can’t concentrate on it, you can’t understand it either. In his book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr eloquently raised this alarm, arguing that the quality of our thought, as a species, rose in tandem with the ascendance of slow-moving, linear print and began declining with the arrival of the zingy,



flighty Internet. “I’m not thinking the way I used to think,”

he worried. I’m certain that many of these fears are warranted. It has

always been difficult for us to maintain mental habits of con- centration and deep thought; that’s precisely why societies have engineered massive social institutions (everything from univer- sities to book clubs and temples of worship) to encourage us to keep it up. It’s part of why only a relatively small subset of people become regular, immersive readers, and part of why an even smaller subset go on to higher education. T oday’s multitasking tools really do make it harder than before to stay focused during long acts of reading and contemplation. They require a high level of “mindfulness”-paying attention to your own atten- tion. While I don’t dwell on the perils of distraction [here], the importance of being mindful resonates throughout these pages. One of the great challenges of today’s digital thinking tools is knowing when not to use them, when to rely on the powers of older and slower technologies, like paper and books.

That said, today’s confident talk by pundits and journalists 35 about our “rewired” brains has one big problem: it is very prema- ture. Serious neuroscientists agree that we don’t really know how our brains are wired to begin with. Brain chemistry is particularly mysterious when it comes to complex thought, like memory, creativity, and insight. “There will eventually be neuroscientific explanations for much of what we do; but those explanations will tum out to be incredibly complicated,” as the neuroscientist Gary Marcus pointed out when critiquing the popular fascina- tion with brain scanning. “For now, our ability to understand how all those parts relate is quite limited, sort of like trying to understand the political dynamics of Ohio from an airplane window above Cleveland.” I’m not dismissing brain scanning; indeed, I’m confident it’ll be crucial in unlocking these mysteries


Smarter Than You Think

in the decades to come. But right now the field is so new that it is rash to draw conclusions, either apocalyptic or utopian, about how the Internet is changing our brains. Even Carr, the most diligent explorer in this area, cited only a single brain-scanning study that specifically probed how people’s brains respond to using the Web, and those results were ambiguous.

The truth is that many healthy daily activities, if you scanned the brains of people participating in them, might appear outright dangerous to cognition. Over recent years, professor of psychiatry James Swain and teams of Yale and University of Michigan scien- tists scanned the brains of new mothers and fathers as they listened to recordings of their babies’ cries. They found brain circuit activ- ity similar to that in people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now, these parents did not actually have OCD. They were just being temporarily vigilant about their newborns. But since the experiments appeared to show the brains of new par- ents being altered at a neural level, you could write a pretty scary headline if you wanted: BECOMING A PARENT ERODES YOUR BRAIN FUNCTION! In reality, as Swain tells me, it’s much more benign. Being extra fretful and cautious around a newborn is a good thing for most parents: Babies are fragile. It’s worth the trade-off. Simi- larly, living in cities-with their cramped dwellings and pounding noise-stresses us out on a straightforwardly physiological level and floods our system with cortisol, as I discovered while research- ing stress in New York City several years ago. But the very urban density that frazzles us mentally also makes us 50 percent more productive, and more creative, too, as Edward Glaeser argues in Triumph of the City, because of all those connections between people. This is “the city’s edge in producing ideas.” The upside of creativity is tied to the downside of living in a sardine tin, or, as Glaeser puts it, “Density has costs as well as benefits.” Our digital environments likely offer a similar push and pull. We tolerate



their cognitive hassles and distractions for the enormous upside of being connected, in new ways, to other people.

I want to examine how technology changes our mental hab- its, but for now, we’ll be on firmer ground if we stick to what’s observably happening in the world around us: our cognitive behavior, the quality of our cultural production, and the social science that tries to measure what we do in everyday life. In any case, I won’t be talking about how your brain is being “rewired.”

Almost everything rewires it … . The brain you had read this paragraph? You don’t

get that brain back. I’m hoping the trade-off is worth it.

The rise of advanced chess didn’t end the debate about man versus machine, of course. In fact, the centaur phenomenon only complicated things further for the chess world-raising questions about how reliant players were on computers and how their presence affected the game itself. Some worried that if humans got too used to consulting machines, they wouldn’t be able to play without them. Indeed, in June 2011, chess master Christoph Natsidis was caught illicitly using a mobile phone during a regular human-to-human match. During tense moments, he kept vanishing for long bathroom visits; the ref- eree, suspicious, discovered Natsidis entering moves into a piece of chess software on his smartphone. Chess had entered a phase similar to the doping scandals that have plagued baseball and cycling, except in this case the drug was software and its effect

cognitive. This is a nice metaphor for a fear that can nag at us in our 40

everyday lives, too, as we use machines for thinking more and more. Are we losing some of our humanity? What happens if the Internet goes down: Do our brains collapse, too? Or is the question naive and irrelevant-as quaint as worrying about


Smarter Than You Think

whether we’re “dumb” because we can’t compute long division without a piece of paper and a pencil?

Certainly, if we’re intellectually lazy or prone to cheating and shortcuts, or if we simply don’t pay much attention to how our tools affect the way we work, then yes-we can become, like Natsidis, overreliant. But the story of computers and chess offers a much more optimistic ending, too. Because it turns out that when chess players were genuinely passionate about learn- ing and being creative in their game, computers didn’t degrade their own human abilities. Quite the opposite: it helped them internalize the game much more profoundly and advance to new levels of human excellence.

Before computers came along, back when Kasparov was a young boy in the 1970s in the Soviet Union, learning grand-master-level chess was a slow, arduous affair. If you showed promise and you were very lucky, you could find a local grand master to teach you. If you were one of the tiny handful who showed world-class promise, Soviet leaders would fly you to Moscow and give you access to their elite chess library, which contained laboriously transcribed paper records of the world’s top games. Retrieving records was a painstaking affair; you’d contemplate a possible opening, use the catalog to locate games that began with that move, and then the librarians would retrieve records from thin files, pulling them out using long sticks resembling knitting needles. Books of chess games were rare and incomplete. By gaining access to the Soviet elite library, Kasparov and his peers developed an enormous advan- tage over their global rivals. That library was their cognitive augmentation.

But beginning in the 1980s, computers took over the library’s role and bested it. Young chess enthusiasts could buy CD-ROMs filled with hundreds of thousands of chess games.



Chess-playing software could show you how an artificial oppo- nent would respond to any move. This dramatically increased the pace at which young chess players built up intuition. If you were sitting at lunch and had an idea for a bold new opening move, you could instantly find out which historic players had tried it, then war-game it yourself by playing against software. The iterative process of thought experiments-“If I did this, then what would happen?”-sped up exponentially.

Chess itself began to evolve. “Players became more creative and daring,” as Frederic Friedel, the publisher of the first popu- lar chess databases and software, tells me. Before computers, grand masters would stick to lines of attack they’d long stud- ied and honed. Since it took weeks or months for them to research and mentally explore the ramifications of a new move, they stuck with what they knew. But as the next generation of players emerged, Friedel was astonished by their unusual gambits, particularly in their opening moves. Chess players today, Kasparov has written, “are almost as free of dogma as the machines with which they train. Increasingly, a move isn’t good or bad because it looks that way or because it hasn’t been done that way before. It’s simply good if it works and bad if

it doesn’t.” Most remarkably, it is producing players who reach grand 45

master status younger. Before computers, it was extremely rare for teenagers to become grand masters. In 1958, Bobby Fischer stunned the world by achieving that status at fifteen. The feat was so unusual it was over three decades before the record was broken, in 1991. But by then computers had emerged, and in the years since, the record has been broken twenty times, as more and more young players became grand masters. In 2002, the Ukrainian Sergey Karjakin became one at the tender age

of twelve.


Smarter Than You Think

So yes, when we’re augmenting ourselves, we can be smart W’ b · ~ e re ecommg centaurs. But our digital tools can also leave us smarter even when we’re not actively using them.

Joining the Conversation

1. Clive ~ompson lists three shifts-infinite memory, dot connectmg, and explosive publishing-that he believes have strongly affected our cognition. What exactly does he mean by these three shifts, and in what ways does he think they have changed our thinking?

2. Thompson starts paragraph 20 by sayt’ng “0 I ur too s are everywhere, link~d with our minds, working in tandem.” What. do yo~ thmk? Does his statement reflect your own expenence wtth technology?

3. I~ paragraphs 33-35, Thompson cites Nicholas Carr, whose vtews about technology differ from his. How does he respond to. Carr-and how does acknowledging views he disagrees wtth help support his own position?

4. So ~hat? Has Thompson convinced you that his topic mat- ters. If so, how and where does he do so?

5. ~rit~ an essay reflecting on the ways digital technologies ave mfluenced your own intellectual development drawing

from Thompson’s text and other readings in this chapter- and on your own experience as support for your argument. Be sure to acknowledge views other than your own.

4 61


4. Cullington focuses on how texting affects on writing, whereas Sherry Turkle is concerned with the way it affects communication more broadly (pp. 373-92). How do you think Cullington would respond to Turkle’s concerns?

5. Cullington “send[s] and receive[s] around 6,400 texts a month” (paragraph 21). About how many do you send and receive? Write a paragraph reflecting on how your texting affects your other writing. First write it as a text, and then revise it to meet the standards of academic writing. How do

the two differ?

No Need to Call


“So MANY PEOPLE HATE THE TELEPHONE,” says Elaine, seventeen. Among her friends at Roosevelt High School, “it’s all texting and messaging.” She herself writes each of her six closest friends roughly twenty texts a day. In addition, she says, “there are about forty instant messages out, forty in, when I’m at home on the computer.” Elaine has strong ideas about how electronic media “levels the playing field” between people like her-outgoing, on the soccer team, and in drama club-and the shy: “It’s only on the screen that shy people open up.” She explains why: “When you can think about what you’re going to say, you can talk to someone you’d have trouble talking to. And it doesn’t seem weird that you pause for two minutes to

SHERRY TuRKLE teaches in the program in science, technology, and

society at MIT and directs the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self.

She has been described as the “Margaret Mead of digital culture.” Her

books include Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology

and Less from Each Other (2011), Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age

of the Internet (1995), and The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (1984) . This essay is from Alone Together.


think about what you’re going to say before you say it, like it would be if you were actually talking to someone.”

Elaine gets specific about the technical designs that help shy people express themselves in electronic messaging. The person to whom you are writing shouldn’t be able to see your process of revision or how long you have been working on the message. “That could be humiliating.” The best communica- tion programs shield the writer from the view of the reader. The advantage of screen communication is that it is a place to reflect, retype, and edit. “It is a place to hide,” says Elaine.

The notion that hiding makes it easier to open up is not new. In the psychoanalytic tradition, it inspired technique. Classical analysis shielded the patient from the analyst’s gaze in order to facilitate free association, the golden rule of saying whatever comes to mind. Likewise, at a screen, you feel protected and less burdened by expectations. And, although you are alone, the potential for almost instantaneous contact gives an encourag- ing feeling of already being together. In this curious relational space, even sophisticated users who know that electronic com- munications can be saved, shared, and show up in court, suc- cumb to its illusion of privacy. Alone with your thoughts, yet in contact with an almost tangible fantasy of the other, you feel free to play. At the screen, you have a chance to write yourself into the person you want to be and to imagine others as you wish them to be, constructing them for your purposes. 1 It is a seductive but dangerous habit of mind. When you cultivate this sensibility, a telephone call can seem fearsome because it

reveals too much. Elaine is right in her analysis: teenagers flee the telephone.

Perhaps more surprisingly, so do adults. They claim exhaustion and lack of time; always on call, with their time highly lever- aged through multitasking, they avoid voice communication

3 7 4

No Need to Call

outside of a small circle because it demands their full attention when they don’t want to give it.

Technologies live in complex ecologies. The meaning of s any one depends on what others are available. The telephone was once a way to touch base or ask a simple question. But once you have access to e-mail, instant messaging, and texting, things change. Although we still use the phone to keep up with those closest to us, we use it less outside this circle.2 Not only do people say that a phone call asks too much, they worry it will be received as demanding too much. Randolph, a forty-six-year-old architect with two jobs, two young children, and a twelve-year- old son from a former marriage, makes both points. He avoids the telephone because he feels “tapped out …. It promises more than I’m willing to deliver.” If he keeps his communications to text and e-mail, he believes he can “keep it together.” He explains, “Now that there is e-mail, people expect that a call will be more complicated. Not about facts. A fuller thing. People expect it to take time-or else you wouldn’t have called.”

Tara, a fifty-five-year-old lawyer who juggles children, a job, and a new marriage, makes a similar point: “When you ask for a call, the expectation is that you have pumped it up a level. People say to themselves: ‘It’s urgent or she would have sent an e-mail.”‘ So Tara avoids the telephone. She wants to meet with friends in person; e-mail is for setting up these meetings. “That is what is most efficient,” she says. But efficiency has its downside. Business meetings have agendas, but friends have unscheduled needs. In friendship, things can’t always wait. Tara knows this; she feels guilty and she experiences a loss: “I’m at the point where I’m processing my friends as though they were items of inventory … or clients.”

Leonora, fifty-seven, a professor of chemistry, reflects on her similar practice: “I use e-mail to make appointments to



see friends, but I’m so busy that I’m often making an appoint- ment one or two months in the future. After we set things up by e-mail, we do not call. Really. I don’t call. They don’t call. They feel that they have their appointment. What do I feel? I feel I have ‘taken care of that person.”‘ Leonora’s pained tone makes it clear that by “taken care of” she means that she has crossed someone off a to-do list. Tara and Leonora are discontent but do not feel they have a choice. This is where technology has brought them. They subscribe to a new etiquette, claiming the need for efficiency in a realm where efficiency is costly.

Audrey: A Life on the Screen

… Audrey, sixteen, a Roosevelt junior[,] talked about her Facebook profile as “the avatar of me.” She’s one of Elaine’s shy friends who prefers texting to talking. She is never without her phone, sometimes using it to text even as she instant-messages at an open computer screen. Audrey feels lonely in her fam- ily. She has an older brother in medical school and a second, younger brother, just two years old. Her parents are divorced, and she lives half time with each of them. Their homes are about a forty-five-minute drive apart. This means that Audrey spends a lot of time on the road. “On the road,” she says. “That’s daily life.” She sees her phone as the glue that ties her life together. Her mother calls her to pass on a message to her father. Her father does the same. Audrey says, “They call me to say, ‘Tell your mom this …. Make sure your dad knows that.’ I use the cell to pull it together.” Audrey sums up the situa- tion: “My parents use me and my cell like instant messenger. I am their IM.”


No Need to Call

Like so many other children who tell me similar stories, Audrey complains of her mother’s inattention when she picks her up at school or after sports practice. At these times, Audrey says, her mother is usually focused on her cell phone, either texting or talking to her friends. Audrey describes the scene: she comes out of the gym exhausted, carrying heavy gear. Her mother sits in her beaten-up SUV, immersed in her cell, and doesn’t even look up until Audrey opens the car door. Some- times her mother will make eye contact but remain engrossed with the phone as they begin the drive home. Audrey says, “It gets between us, but it’s hopeless. She’s not going to give it up. Like, it could have been four days since I last spoke to her, then I sit in the car and wait in silence until she’s done.”3

Audrey has a fantasy of her mother, waiting for her, expect- 10 ant, without a phone. But Audrey is resigned that this is not to be and feels she must temper her criticism of her mother because of her own habit of texting when she is with her friends. Audrey does everything she can to avoid a call.4 “The phone, it’s awkward. I don’t see the point. Too much just a recap and sharing feelings. With a text … I can answer on my own time. I can respond. I can ignore it. So it really works with my mood. I’m not bound to anything, no commitment …. I have control over the conversation and also more control over what I say.”

T exting offers protection:

Nothing will get spat at you. You have time to think and prepare

what you’re going to say, to make you appear like that’s just the way

you are. There’s planning involved, so you can control how you’re

portrayed to this person, because you’re choosing these wQrds,

editing it before you send it …. When you instant-message you

can cross things out, edit what you say, block a person, or sign off.

A phone conversation is a lot of pressure. You’re always expected




to uphold it, to keep it going, and that’s too much pressure ….

You have to just keep going … “Oh, how was your day?” You’re

trying to think of something else to say real fast so the conversa-

tion doesn’t die out.

Then Audrey makes up a new word. A text, she argues, is better than a call because in a call “there is a lot less bound- ness to the person.” By this she means that in a call, she could learn too much or say too much, and things could get “out of control.” A call has insufficient boundaries. She admits that “later in life I’m going to need to talk to people on the phone. But not now.” When texting, she feels at a reassuring distance. If things start to go in a direction she doesn’t like, she can eas- ily redirect the conversation-or cut it off: “In texting, you get your main points off; you can really control when you want the conversation to start and end. You say, ‘Got to go, bye.’ You

Teenagers plugged into their devices but not each other.


No Need to Call

just do it … much better than the long drawn-out good-byes, when you have no real reason to leave, but you want to end the conversation.” This last is what Audrey likes least-the end of conversations. A phone call, she explains, requires the skill to end a conversation “when you have no real reason to leave …. It’s not like there is a reason. You just want to. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t want to learn.”

Ending a call is hard for Audrey because she experiences separation as rejection; she projects onto others the pang of abandonment she feels when someone ends a conversation with her. Feeling unthreatened when someone wants to end a con- versation may seem a small thing, but it is not: It calls upon a sense of self-worth; one needs to be at a place where Audrey has not arrived. It is easier to avoid the phone; its beginnings and endings are too rough on her.

Audrey is not alone in this. Among her friends, phone calls are infrequent, and she says, “Face-to-face conversations happen way less than they did before. It’s always, ‘Oh, talk to you online.”‘ This means, she explains, that things happen online that “should happen in person …. Friendships get bro- ken. I’ve had someone ask me out in a text message. I’ve had someone break up with me online.” But Audrey is resigned to such costs and focuses on the bounties of online life.

One of Audrey’s current enthusiasms is playing a more li social, even flirtatious version of herself in online worlds. “I’d like to be more like I am online,” she says. As we’ve seen, for Audrey, building an online avatar is not so different from writ- ing a social-networking profile. An avatar, she explains, “is a Facebook profile come to life.” And avatars and profiles have a lot in common with the everyday experiences of texting and instant messaging. In all of these, as she sees it, the point is to do “a performance of you.”



Making an avatar and texting. Pretty much the same. You’re cre-

ating your own person; you don’t have to think of things on the

spot really, which a lot of people can’t really do. You’re creating

your own little ideal person and sending it out. Also on the Inter-

net, with sites like MySpace and Facebook, you put up the things

you like about yourself, and you’re not going to advertise the bad

aspects of you.

You’re not going to post pictures of how you look every day.

You’re going to get your makeup on, put on your cute little outfit,

you’re going to take your picture and post it up as your default, and

that’s what people are going to expect that you are every day, when

really you’re making it up for all these people …. You can write

anything about yourself; these people don’t know. You can create

who you want to be. You can say what kind of stereotype mold you

want to fit in without … maybe in real life it won’t work for you,

you can’t pull it off. But you can pull it off on the Internet.

Audrey has her cell phone and its camera with her all day; all day she takes pictures and posts them to Facebook. She boasts that she has far more Face book photo albums than any of her friends. “I like to feel,” she says, “that my life is up there.” But, of course, what is up on Facebook is her edited life. Audrey is preoccupied about which photographs to post. Which put her in the best light? Which show her as a “bad” girl in potentially appealing ways? If identity play is the work of adolescence, Audrey is at work all day: “If Facebook were deleted, I’d be deleted …. All my memories would probably go along with it. And other people have posted pictures of me. All of that would be lost. If Face book were undone, I might actually freak out …. That is where I am. It’s part of your life. It’s a second you.” It is at this point that Audrey says of a Facebook avatar: “It’s your little twin on the Internet.”


No Need to Call

Since Audrey is constantly reshaping this “twin,” she won- ders what happens to the elements of her twin that she edits away. “What does Facebook do with pictures you put on and then take off?” She suspects that they stay on the Internet forever, an idea she finds both troubling and comforting. If everything is archived, Audrey worries that she will never be able to escape the Internet twin. That thought is not so nice. But if everything is archived, at least in fantasy, she will never have to give her up. That thought is kind of nice.

On Facebook, Audrey works on the twin, and the twin works on her. She describes her relationship to the site as a “give-and-take.” Here’s how it works: Audrey tries out a “flirty” style. She receives a good response from Facebook friends, and so she ramps up the flirtatious tone. She tries out “an ironic, witty” tone in her wall posts. The response is not so good, and she retreats. Audrey uses the same kind of tinkering as she experiments with her avatars in virtual worlds. She builds a first version to “put something out there.” Then comes months of adjusting, of “seeing the new kinds of people I can hang with” by changing how she represents herself. Change your avatar, change your world.

Overwhelmed across the Generations

The teenagers I studied were born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Many were introduced to the Internet through America Online when they were only a little past being toddlers. Their parents, however, came to online life as grown-ups. In this domain, they are a generation that, from the beginning, has been playing catch-up with their children. This pattern continues: the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is adults from

3 81


·conventional thirty-five to forty-four.5 Conventional wisdom stresses wisdom” Is the how dt’«erent these adults are from their children-lay-“standard view.” Ill

For more on ing out fundamental divides between those who migrated this move, see h

pp. 23-24. to digital worlds and those who are its “natives.” Butt e migrants and natives share a lot: perhaps above all, the feeling of being overwhelmed. If teenagers, overwhelmed with demands for academic and sexual performance, have come to treat online life as a place to hide and draw some lines, then their parents, claiming exhaustion, strive to exert greater control over what reaches them. And the only way to filter effectively is to keep

most communications online and text based. So, they are always on, always at work, and always on call. 20

I remember the time, not many years ago, when I celebrated Thanksgiving with a friend and her son, a young lawyer, who had just been given a beeper by his firm. At the time, everyone at the table, including him, joked about the idea of his “legal emergencies.” By the following year, he couldn’t imagine not being in continual contact with the office. There was a time when only physicians had beepers, a “burden” shared in rota- tion. Now, we have all taken up the burden, reframed as an

asset-or as just the way it is. We are on call for our families as well as our colleagues.

On a morning hike in the Berkshires, I fall into step with Hope, forty-seven, a real estate broker from Manhattan. She carries her BlackBerry. Her husband, she says, will probably want to be in touch. And indeed, he calls at thirty-minute intervals. Hope admits, somewhat apologetically, that she is “not fond” of the calls, but she loves her husband, and this is what he needs. She answers her phone religiously until finally a call comes in with spotty reception. “We’re out of range, thank goodness,” she says, as she disables her phone. “I need

a rest.”


No Need to Call

Increasingly, people feel as though they must have a reason for taking time alone, a reason not to be available for calls. It is poignant that people’s thoughts tum to technology when they imagine ways to deal with stresses that they see as having been brought on by technology. They talk of filters and intelligent agents that will handle the messages they don’t want to see. Hope and Audrey, though thirty years apart in age, both see texting as the solution to the “problem” of the telephone. And both rede- fine “stress” in the same way-as pressure that happens in real time. With this in mind, my hiking partner explains that she is trying to “convert” her husband to texting. There will be more messages; he will be able to send more texts than he can place calls. But she will not have to deal with them “as they happen.”

Mixed feelings about the drumbeat of electronic communi- cation do not suggest any lack of affection toward those with whom we are in touch. But a stream of messages makes it impos- sible to find moments of solitude, time when other people are showing us neither dependency nor affection. In solitude we don’t reject the world but have the space to think our own thoughts. But if your phone is always with you, seeking solitude can look suspiciously like hiding.

We fill our days with ongoing connection, denying ourselves time to think and dream. Busy to the point of depletion, we make a new Faustian* bargain. It goes something like this: if we are left alone when we make contact, we can handle being together.

The barrier to making a call is so high that even when people z; have something important to share, they hold back. Tara, the lawyer who admits to “processing” her friends by dealing with

*Faustian Relating to Faust, a character of German folklore, and used to describe something or someone that is concerned only with present gain and not future consequences.



them on e-mail, tells me a story about a friendship undermined. About four times a year, Tara has dinner with Alice, a classmate from law school. Recently, the two women exchanged multiple e-mails trying to set a date. Finally, after many false starts, they settled on a time and a restaurant. Alice did not come to the dinner with good news. Her sister had died. Though they lived thousands of miles apart, the sisters had spoken once a day. Without her sister, without these calls, Alice feels ungrounded.

At dinner, when Alice told Tara about her sister’s death, Tara became upset, close to distraught. She and Alice had been e-mailing for months. Why hadn’t Alice told her about this? Alice explained that she had been taken up with her family, with arrangements. And she said, simply, “I didn’t think it was something to discuss over e-mail.” Herself in need of support,

Alice ended up comforting Tara. As Tara tells me this story, she says that she was ashamed

of her reaction. Her focus should have been-and should now be-on Alice’s loss, not on her own ranking as a confidant. But she feels defensive as well. She had, after all, “been in touch.” She’d e-mailed; she’d made sure that their dinner got arranged. Tara keeps coming back to the thought that if she and Alice had spoken on the telephone to set up their dinner date, she would have learned about her friend’s loss. She says, “I would have heard something in her voice. I would have suspected. I could have drawn her out.” But for Tara, as for so many, the telephone call is for family. For friends, even dear friends, it is

close to being off the menu. Tara avoids the voice but knows she has lost something. For

the young, this is less clear. I talk with Meredith, a junior at Silver Academy who several months before had learned of a friend’s death via instant message and had been glad that she didn’t have to see or speak to anyone. She says, “It was a day

No Need to Call

off, so I was at home, and I hadn’t seen anyone who lives around me, and then my friend Rosie IM’ed me and told me my friend died. I was shocked and everything, but I was more okay than I would’ve been if I saw people. I went through the whole thing not seeing anyone and just talking to people online about it, and I was fine. I think it would’ve been much worse if they’d told me in person.”

I ask Meredith to say more. She explains that when bad news came in an instant message, she was able to compose herself. It would have been “terrible,” she says, to have received a call. “I didn’t have to be upset in front of someone else.” Indeed, for a day after hearing the news, Meredith only communicated with friends by instant message. She describes the IMs as fre- quent but brief: “Just about the fact of it. Conversations like, ‘Oh, have you heard?’ ‘Yeah, I heard.’ And that’s it.” The IMs let her put her emotions at a distance. When she had to face other people at school, she could barely tolerate the rush of feeling: “The second I saw my friends, it got so much worse.” Karen and Beatrice, two of Meredith’s friends, tell similar sto- ries. Karen learned about the death of her best friend’s father in an instant message. She says, “It was easier to learn about it on the computer. It made it easier to hear. I could take it in pieces. I didn’t have to look all upset to anyone.” Beatrice reflects, “I don’t want to hear bad things, but if it is just texted to me, I can stay calm.”

These young women prefer to deal with strong feelings from w the safe haven of the Net. It gives them an alternative to pro- cessing emotions in real time. Under stress, they seek compo- sure above all. But they do not find equanimity. When they meet and lose composure, they find a new way to flee: often they take their phones out to text each other and friends not in the room. I see a vulnerability in this generation, so quick


to say, “Please don’t call.” They keep themselves at a distance from their feelings. They keep themselves from people who

could help.


When I first read how it is through our faces that we call each other up as human beings, I remember thinking I have always felt that way about the human voice. But like many of those I study, I have been complicit with technology in removing

many voices from my life. I had plans for dinner with a colleague, Joyce. On the day

before we were to meet, my daughter got admitted to college. I e-mailed Joyce that we would have much to celebrate. She e-mailed back a note of congratulations. She had been through the college admissions process with her children and under- stood my relief. At dinner, Joyce said that she had thought of calling to congratulate me, but a call had seemed “intrusive.” I admitted that I hadn’t called her to share my good news for the same reason. Joyce and I both felt constrained by a new etiquette but were also content to follow it. “I feel more in control of my time if I’m not disturbed by calls,” Joyce admit-

ted. Both Joyce and .I have gained something we are not happy

about wanting. License to feel together when alone, comforted by e-mails, excused from having to attend to people in real time. We did not set out to avoid the voice but end up denying ourselves its pleasures. For the voice can be experienced only in real time, and both of us are so busy that we don’t feel we

have it to spare. Apple’s visual voicemail for the iPhone was welcomed

because it saves you the trouble of having to listen to a message


No Need to Call

to know who sent it. And now there are applications that auto- matically transcribe voicemail into text. I interview Maureen, a college freshman, who is thrilled to have discovered one of these programs. She says that only her parents send her voice- mail: “I love my parents, but they don’t know how to use the phone. It’s not the place to leave long voice messages. Too long to listen to. Now, I can scroll through the voicemail as text messages. Great.”

Here, in the domain of connectivity, we meet the narra- s tive of better than nothing becoming simply better. People have long wanted to connect with those at a distance. We sent letters, then telegrams, and then the telephone gave us a way to hear their voices. All of these were better than noth- ing when you couldn’t meet face-to-face. Then, short of time, people began to use the phone instead of getting together. By the 1970s, when I first noticed that I was living in a new regime of connectivity, you were never really “away” from your phone because answering machines made you responsible for any call that came in. Then, this machine, originally designed as a way to leave a message if someone was not at home, became a screening device, our end-of-millennium Victorian calling card. Over time, voicemail became an end in itself, not the result of a frustrated telephone call. People began to call purposely when they knew that no one would be home. People learned to let the phone ring and “let the voicemail pick it up.”

In a next step, the voice was taken out of voicemail because communicating with text is faster. E-mail gives you more con- trol over your time and emotional exposure. But then, it, too, was not fast enough. With mobile connectivity (think text and Twitter), we can communicate our lives pretty much at the rate we live them. But the system backfires. We express ourselves in staccato texts, but we send out a lot and often to



large groups. So we get even more back-so many that the idea of communicating with anything but texts seems too exhaust- ing. Shakespeare might have said, we are “consumed with that

which we are nourished by.”6

I sketched out this narrative to a friend for whom it rang true as a description but seemed incredible all the same. A professor of poetry and a voracious reader, she said, “We cannot all write like Lincoln or Shakespeare, but even the least gifted among of us has this incredible instrument, our voice, to communicate the range of human emotion. Why would we deprive ourselves

of that?” The beginning of an answer has become clear: in text mes-

saging and e-mail, you hide as much as you show. You can present yourself as you wish to be “seen.” And you can “process” people as quickly as you want to. Listening can only slow you down. A voice recording can be sped up a bit, but it has to unfold in real time. Better to have it transcribed or avoid it altogether. We work so hard to give expressive voices to our

robots but are content not to use our own. Like the letters they replace, e-mail, messaging, texting,

and, more recently, Tweeting carry a trace of the voice. When Tara regretted that she had not called her friend Alice-on the phone she would have heard her friend’s grief-she expressed the point of view of someone who grew up with the voice and is sorry to have lost touch with it. Hers is a story of trying to rebalance things in a traditional framework. Trey, her law partner, confronts something different, something he cannot


My brother found out that his wife is pregnant and he put it on his blog. He didn’t call me first. I called him when I saw the blog entry. I was mad at him. He didn’t see why I was making a big


No Need to Call

deal. He writes his blog every day, as things happen, that’s how he lives. So when they got home from the doctor-bam, right onto the blog. Actually, he said it was part of how he celebrated the news with his wife- to put it on the blog together with a picture of him raising a glass of champagne and she raising a glass of orange juice. Their idea was to celebrate on the blog, almost in real time, with the photos and everything. When I complained they made me feel like such a girl. Do you think I’m old-school?7

Trey’s story is very different from Tara’s. Trey’s brother was 4l1 not trying to save time by avoiding the telephone. His brother did not avoid or forget him or show preference to other family members. Blogging is part of his brother’s intimate life. It is how he and his wife celebrated the most important milestone in their life as a family. In a very different example of our new genres of online intimacy, a friend of mine underwent a stem cell transplant. I felt honored when invited to join her family’s blog. It is set up as a news feed that appears on my computer desktop. Every day, and often several times a day, the family posts medical reports, poems, reflections, and photographs. There are messages from the patient, her hus- band, her children, and her brother, who donated his stem cells. There is progress and there are setbacks. On the blog, one can follow this family as it lives, suffers, and rejoices for a year of treatment. Inhibitions lift. Family members tell stories that would be harder to share face-to-face . I read every post. I send e-mails. But the presence of the blog changes something in my behavior. I am grateful for every piece of information but feel strangely shy about calling. Would it be an intrusion? I think of Trey. Like him, I am trying to get my bearings in a world where the Net has become a place of intimate enclosure.




1. In the object relations tradition of psychoanalysis, an object is that

which one relates to. Usually, objects are people, especially a significant person

who is the object or target of another’s feelings or intentions. A whole object is a person in his or her entirety. It is common in development for people to

internalize part objects, representations of others that are not the whole person. Online life provides an environment that makes it easier for people to relate to part objects. This puts relationships at risk. On object relations theory, see, for example, Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black, Freud and Beyond:

A History of Modem Psychoanalytic Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1995). 2. See Stefana Broadbent, “How the Internet Enables Intimacy,”,!ks/stefana_broadbent_how _the_intemet_enables_intimacy. html (accessed August 8, 2010). According to Broadbent, 80 percent of calls

on cell phones are made to four people, 80 percent of Skype calls are made to two people, and most Facebook exchanges are with four to six people.

3. This mother is being destructive to her relationship with her daughter.

Research shows that people use the phone in ways that surely undermine rela·

tionships with adult partners as well. In one striking finding, according to Dan

Schulman, CEO of cell operator Virgin Mobile, one in five people will interrupt

sex to answer their phone. David Kirkpatrick, “Do You Answer Your Cellphone During Sex?” Fortune, August 28, 2006, http:l/

technology/fastforward_kirpatrick.fortune/index.htm (accessed November 11,

2009). 4. See Amanda Lenhart et a!., “Teens and Mobile Phones,” The Pew

Foundation, April 20, 2010,

Mobile-Phones.aspx?r=i (accessed August 10, 2010). 5. “Number of US Facebook Users over 35 Nearly Doubles in Last 60

Days,” Inside Facebook, March 25, 2009, www.insidefacebookcom/2009/03/25/ number-of-us-facebook-users-over-35-nearly-doub!es-in·last-60-days (accessed

October 19, 2009). 6. This paraphrases a line from Sonnet 73: “Consum’d with that which it

was nourish’d by . .. ” 7. The author of a recent blog post titled “1 Hate the Phone” would not

call Trey old-school, but nor would she want to call him. Anna-Jane Grossman

admits to growing up loving her pink princess phone, answering machine, and

long, drawn-out conversations with friends she had just seen at school. Now she

No Need to Call

hates the phone: “I fee! an inexplicable kind of dread when I hear a phone ring,

even when the caller ID displays the number of someone I like …. My dislike for the phone probably first started to grow when I began using Instant Mes-

senger. Perhaps phone-talking is a skill that one has to practice, and the more

!Ming I’ve done, the more my skills have dwindled to the level of a modem

day 13-year-old who never has touched a landline …. I don’t even listen to my [phone) messages any more: They get transcribed automatically and then are sent to me via e-mail or text.” The author was introduced to SkYPe and sees its virtues; she also sees the ways in which it undermines conversation:

“It occurs to me that if there’s one thing that’ll become obsolete because of video-chatting, it’s not phones: it’s natural flowing conversations with people far away.” See Grossman, “! Hate the Phone.”

In my experience with SkYPe, pauses seem long and awkward, and it is an effort not to look bored. Peggy Ornstein makes this point in “The Over-

extended Family,” New York Times Magazine, June 25, 2009, ww.nytimes. com/2009/06/ZB/magazine/28fob-wwln-t.html (accessed October 17, 2009). Ornstein characterizes Skype as providing “too much information,” something that derails intimacy: “Suddenly I understood why slumber-party confessions

always came after lights were out, why children tend to admit the juicy stuff

to the back of your head while you’re driving, why psychoanalysts stay out of a patient’s sightline.”

Joining the Conversation

1. Sherry T urkle was once optimistic about the potential for technology to improve human lives but now takes a more complex view. What does she mean here by the title, “No Need to Call”? What pitfalls does she see in our increasing reluctance to talk on the phone or face-to-face?

2. This reading consists mainly of stories about how people communicate on social media, on the phone, and face-to· face. Summarize the story about Audrey (pp. 376-81) in one paragraph.


3. According to Turkle, we “hide as much as [we] show” in text messages and email, presenting ourselves “as [we] wish to be ‘seen”‘ (paragraph 38). Is this so different from what we do in most of our writing? How do you present yourself in your academic writing, and how does that presentation differ from what you do in text messages or email?

4. Is digital communication good or bad–or both? Read Chapter 13, which summarizes both sides of that discus- sion. Which side (or sides) do you come down on? Where

do you think Turkle stands? 5. Turkle says she sees “a vulnerability” in those who prefer

social media to phone calls or face-to-face communication: “I see a vulnerability in this generation, so quick to say, ‘Please don’t call”‘ (paragraph 30). Write an essay about your own views on communicating with social media, draw- ing upon this and other readings in the chapter for ideas to

consider, to question, and to support your view.

3 9 2

I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight.

On the App.


LAsT SuNDAY, I spent a lazy afternoon with my boyfriend. We chatted while I made brunch, discussed the books we were reading, laughed at some cat pictures and then settled down with dinner, before bidding each other good night.

We did all of this despite living more than 3,000 miles apart, thanks to smartphone applications and services that helped to collapse time and space. Video chat apps like Google Hangouts, Face Time and Skype, of course, already make it possible to see and talk to one another in real time. But those formats can be awkward and require both parties to coordinate a time to talk and find someplace quiet with a decent Internet connection-a challenge with busy schedules in different time zones.

I prefer to use applications that already figure into my daily routine, like Google’s instant-messaging application, Gchat, as

]ENNA WoRTHAM writes about technology for the New York Times. Her work also has appeared in Bust magazine, Vogue , and Wired,

and she is a cofounder of the zine Girl Cmsh. Her Twitter handle

is @jennydeluxe. This column first appeared in the New York Times

on April 6, 2014.



3. According to Turkle, we “hide as much as [we] show” in text messages and email, presenting ourselves “as [we] wish to be ‘seen”‘ (paragraph 38). Is this so different from what we do in most of our writing? How do you present yourself in your academic writing, and how does that presentation differ from what you do in text messages or email?

4. Is digital communication good or bad-or both? Read Chapter 13, which summarizes both sides of that discus- sion. Which side (or sides) do you come down on? Where

do you think Turkle stands? 5. Turkle says she sees “a vulnerability” in those who prefer

social media to phone calls or face-to-face communication: “I see a vulnerability in this generation, so quick to say, ‘Please don’t call”‘ (paragraph 30). Write an essay about your own views on communicating with social media, draw- ing upon this and other readings in the chapter for ideas to consider, to question, and to support your view.


I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight.

On the App.


LAsT SuNDAY, I spent a lazy afternoon with my boyfriend. We chatted while I made brunch, discussed the books we were reading, laughed at some cat pictures and then settled down with dinner, before bidding each other good night.

We did all of this despite living more than 3,000 miles apart, thanks to smartphone applications and services that helped to collapse time and space. Video chat apps like Google Hangouts, Face Time and Skype, of course, already make it possible to see and talk to one another in real time. But those formats can be awkward and require both parties to coordinate a time to talk and find someplace quiet with a decent Internet connection-a challenge with busy schedules in different time zones.

I prefer to use applications that already figure into my daily routine, like Google’s instant-messaging application, Gchat, as

]ENNA WoRTHAM writes about technology for the New York Times.

Her work also has appeared in Bust magazine, Vogue, and Wired,

and she is a cofounder of the zine Girl Crush. Her Twitter handle

is @jennydeluxe. This column first appeared in the New York Times

on April 6, 2014.



well as Facebook Messenger, Twitter, lnstagram and Snapchat. This way, we can talk about travel plans while I’m waiting for the train or talk about what he’s making for dinner while I’m

at work. I’ve found that all of my conversational habits have matured

beyond the static phone dates of yore. We are now in constant and continuous communication with our friends, co-workers and family over the course of a day. These interactions can help us feel physically close, even if they happen through a screen.

And because this kind of communication is less formal than ‘i

a phone call or an email, it feels more like the ki.nd of cas~al conversation you might have over a meal or whtle watchmg television together. These conversations can also be infused with a lot more fun than a regular text message, because they often include cutesy features that let you add digital doodles to video messages, or send virtual kisses or cartoon characters.

The downside is that it can be hard to juggle all the various ways to communicate. But a modem kind of application, includ- ing one that we were experimenting with on that lazy Sunday, combines all those interactions-and is designed with couples in mind. This focus on couples is relatively new. The online and mobile dating industry has built many tools and services for single people who are looking for romantic partners and new fri~nds. They’ve evolved from websites like and OKCuptd .to mobile apps like Tinder that let people swipe through potenttal

dates and select the ones that pique their interest. But in recent months, several entrepreneurs have been shift-

ing their attention to people after they meet a mate. “Tech entrepreneurs, long obsessed with making apps to help

you find a relationship, have now begun trying to solve the problem of staying happy in one,” wrote Ann Friedm~n on The Cut, a blog of New York magazine. Ms. Friedman pomts to


I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight. On the App .

apps like Avocado, Couple and Between as smartphone apps that “keep you close with your partner through the power of a smartphone alone.”

The application that my boyfriend and I were using, called You & Me, is scheduled for public release in early May. It was created by the founders of the online dating site HowAboutWe, which initially built its business around people proposing dates- as in, “How about we go to a trivia night?”-as a means for finding matches. The original HowAboutWe dating service was started in 2010 and has attracted two million users to date.

But it had a business-model problem, said Aaron Schildkrout, 10 one of the founders of How About We. The site lost users-and potential customers-once they were in a relationship. “The couples market is huge,” he said. He and his business partner were getting feedback from “couples who had met on the service but couldn’t use it anymore” and decided to build an application “to facilitate communication and interaction.”

The new You & Me application lets two people send pho- tographs and voice messages and play a selfie-exchanging game called “Halfsie.”

I tested an early version for a few weeks. When I described it to others, they often furrowed their brows and asked me whether people really needed yet another application to talk to people they are closest to.

Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together, says she believes that using an application in place of real-world, face-to-face interactions is having a detrimental effect on how we prioritize offline communication and, potentially, on our ability to inter- act even when we aren’t relying on technology as a mediator.

“We’ve given ourselves something so gratifying that we can forget other ways we can communicate,” she said. “What starts out being better than nothing becomes better than anything.”

3 9 5


see Ms. T urkle, who is researching the impact of technol- 15 Chapter 2 for 1 d

ways to blend ogy on communication, said techno ogy-saturate types the author·s could “forget what a face-to-face interaction can do.” words with

your own. She says she is not opposed to messaging applications,

but she cautions that their most frequent users should be aware

of the potential impact. In my experience, however, I’ve found the opposite to be

true, especially as more and more of my daily interactions with friends, colleagues and family happen through a screen. If any- thing, the pervasiveness of technology in my life has heightened

my desire for actual one-on-one meetings. Anyone who spends much time online and on a smartphone

knows that it’s no substitute for the real thing-it’s just an appe- tizer that can delight and satisfy until the main course arrives. But that satisfaction is real. Although I am using a vast array of apps to deal with a real challenge-trying to date someone who lives on a different continent-they still hold their appeal when that distance is erased. Even when we’re both in the same city for an extended time, we still use them, albeit to a lesser degree and not to the detriment of spending actual time together.

In many cases, adding the Internet to the mix can strengthen a relationship over all, because online interactions have their own kind of entertaining rapport that can coexist with their

offline counterparts. In her blog post, Ms. Friedman pointed to a February study

from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Research project that surveyed 2,252 adults about their digital habits in relationships. Seventy-four percent of the couples surveyed reported that the Internet had had a positive impact on their relationship. In addition, 41 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds in serious relation- ships said they felt closer to their partner because of online or

text-message conversations.


I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight. On the App.

Mr. Schildkrout, at You & Me, hopes to appeal to people zo who want to build their relationships through the screen as well as beyond it. Although the couples app will be free, he says, the company may eventually add features that let their users ask each other out on prepackaged evenings or events sold through the application. “At the end of the day,” Mr. Schildkrout said, “technology is where some of the most beautiful interactions happen and deepen.”

The jury is still out on whether You & Me will replace the swath of services we already use, but for what it’s worth, I think that Mr. Schildkrout is right. I’ve had some of my most emo- tionally intimate and honest conversations with friends and romantic partners on mobile devices. And while virtual chats and hugs will never be the same as their real-world counterparts, they can come awfully close in a pinch.

“I Had a Nice Time with You Tonight. On the App,” by Jenna Wortham. From Tl!e New York Times, April 6, 2014. © 2014 The New York Times. All rights reserved. Used by permission and protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States. The printing, copying, redistribution, or retransmission of this Content without express written permission is prohibited.

Joining the Conversation

1. How would you summarize Jenna Wortham’s attitude about using apps to communicate with her boyfriend and others? What benefits does she see, and what limitations?

2. Wortham begins her piece with a short narrative about “a lazy afternoon” with her boyfriend. Why is this an effective way to begin this essay? How else might the piece have begun?

3. So what? Who cares? Where in this piece does Wortham explain why her argument matters? Has she persuaded you- and if not, why not?



4. Sherry Turkle writes (pp. 373-92) that young women often “prefer to deal with strong feelings from the safe haven of the Net” and that doing so provides “an alternative to processing emotions in real time.” What do you think Wortham would

say to that? 5. What if Romeo and Juliet had to communicate using only

an app? What about Samson and Delilah? Or Roosevelt and Churchill? How would the technology have affected their conversations? Write an essay developing your own argu- ment about the larger effects of digital media, citing your experiences as well as ideas from readings in this chapter.


Small Change: Why the Revolution

Will Not Be Tweeted


AT FOUR-THIRTY IN THE AFTERNOON on Monday, February 1, 1960, four college students sat down at the lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. They were freshmen at North Carolina A. & T., a black college a mile or so away.

“I’d like a cup of coffee, please,” one of the four, Ezell Blair, said to the waitress.

“We don’t serve Negroes here,” she replied. The Woolworth’s lunch counter was a long L-shaped bar

that could seat sixty-six people, with a standup snack bar at one end. The seats were for whites. The snack bar was for blacks. Another employee, a black woman who worked at the steam

MALCOLM GLADWELL writes for the New Yorker and was named one of

Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2005. His best-selling

books include The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Differ-

ence (2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking (2005),

Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), and David and Goliath: Underdogs,

Misfits, and the Art of Battling (2013 ). This essay first appeared in the

New Yorker on October 14, 2010.


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