09 October 2018
Is the Internet and Social Media Hurting or Helping this Generation?
When you have a conversation with people nowadays about technology and social media, most people might say they love it and its necessary for everyday life, and some people may say, it’s bad for our brains, or even that its taking over the world. Clive Thompson, a blogger, and journalist for New York Times Magazine, Wired, Fast Company, Mother Jones and Smithsonian, agrees with the vast majority in his book called “Smarter Than You Think” written in 2013. In one chapter of his book called “Public Thinking” he asserts that “The Internet has produced a foaming Niagara of writing” (Thompson, 46). His main argument throughout the chapter is that technology has influenced the way the younger generation writes and how it has increased public writing. In this essay I will evaluate Thompsons main claims and arguments and how effective they are, I will discuss the rebuttals he addresses, and lastly I will analyze his strengths and weaknesses.
One of Thompson’s claims that he presents is that writing has dramatically increased from the creation of the internet and throughout the generations. In “Public Thinking,” he explains that before we had social media and the internet, most people focused on reading rather than writing and writing was not as common. Now that social media and the internet have been created and are favored more by the younger generation, writing has become just as popular as reading has but is used in many different forms. He supports his claim that writing wasn’t as popular with an anecdote from his mother as he asked her how many times she had written something more than a paragraph long in the past year, and she responds with “Oh, never! I sign my name on checks or make lists- that’s it.” (50) and then follows with, “You could probably take all the prose she’s generated since she left high school in 1952 and fit it in a single file folder.” (50). This anecdote he chose to use communicates that since most of the older age tends to rarely use technology and social media, they do not write nearly as much as the younger generations do, due to the fact that most of our writing is done on the internet. Thompson may have added this anecdote to give the chapter a personal touch but he most likely added it to create a connection between the reader and him as the writer. The specific anecdote he uses is very powerful in persuading us for his argument as it allows us to connect personally through a story rather than a common statistic or fact. An additional example Thompson provides to back up this claim is statistics on how much we use the internet and social media daily. Thompson states that “we compose 154 billion emails, more than 500 million tweets on Twitter and over 1 million blog posts and 1.3 million blog comments on WordPress alone.” (46-47). Thompson reveals that these are only averages for one day, which might be shocking and outrageous to millenials as most people don’t realize how much we actually write on a day to day basis. The statistical data he provides, communicates to us what we actually write as a population and that the internet has provided us a source to do many different things, but by providing this statistic it also gives us a glimpse of real data that most likely no one would know off the top of their head. Most importantly this data he chose to use is relevant towards his claim, making it easier for the reader to understand and connect that the internet has dramatically increased throughout the generations. Overall, without the advanced technology we have and the internet, we would not write nearly as much as we do in our everyday lives.
Additionally Thompson presents that writing has cognitive benefits, it can clarify your thinking and improve your memory. Thompson states that writing can clarify our thinking because by writing these thoughts down, it allows us to expand on the idea and think more about them resulting in a clearer, better idea. He says that “By putting half- formed thoughts on a page, we externalize them and are able to evaluate them more objectively” (Thompson 51). What he means by this is that if we just keep the ideas in our heads we are not able to visualize and think upon it because of the overwhelming thoughts going through our brains at once. The motion of writing it down allows us to focus directly and create a better, more precise idea. This example he provides clarifies what he means and makes it easier for the reader to understand what he is arguing, making it easier for the reader to be influenced into his stance on the argument. Similarly, Thompson also argues that writing improves our memory because when we write about things we remember more about them. The evidence he provides for this portion of the claim is an experiment done in 1978 by two psychologists, who tested people to see how well they could remember words that they’d written down versus words that they just read. The results from the study came out that people could remember the words that they wrote down better than the ones they read, concluding that we’re better able to retain information from writing it which helps us in our everyday lives, retaining more now, than ever before (Thompson 57). By providing these research results it allows Thompson to provide real life data for the reader to follow but it also gives the reader a reason to question why he would use a study done from 40 years ago. Being said, the results are ultimately more beneficial because using a credible resource provides the readers a reason to believe he is accurate. Concluding that, both of these claims pertain effectively to Thompson’s argument because by writing on the internet it is actually improving our brain and strengthening it rather than hurting it as some people may think.
Lastly, one of Thompson’s biggest claims is that writing for an audience, both big and small, has benefits and helps writing become more precise. He discusses that when people know they’re writing or even performing for an audience their work tends to be better, because people are afraid of what other people think about them so they do the best work they can. Thompson asserts this by saying “I’d argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of ten people (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from ten people to a million people.” (Thompson 56). What he means by this is that no matter how small of an audience it is, just transitioning from writing for yourself, to writing for a group people has a greater effect because you start to write more efficiently by making everything better and more precise because we want to impress our audience. This is because no matter what we’re doing, if we are doing it in front of other people, rather than just ourselves, we want to do our best so we don’t look like a fool. Another piece of evidence he provides is an anecdote about Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan- born law student, who had never written for an audience, and created a blog about Kenyan corruption, which ended up becoming very popular. She states “Knowing I had these people reading me, I was very self-conscious to build my arguments, back up what I wanted to say. It was very interesting; I got this sense of obligation.” (Thompson 46). By providing this story it shows that until you actually write for an audience you don’t realize how important it is even in everyday life. This anecdote it effective in his argument because he uses it in the very beginning of the chapter opening his argument with a way for the reader to be influenced from a real life story rather than a plain fact. Furthermore, just like anything else such as sports, or a play, writing is just as important when performing in front of an audience, it pushes people to do better and create their best work.
Someone is always going to have an opposing opinion of what you think no matter what you’re talking about, and Thompson discusses some opposing arguments, called rebuttals, to his claims, in his argument. In this chapter he addresses a rebuttal that people think “college students can’t write as well as in the past.” This rebuttal he discusses about college students not writing as well or being thought of lazy was opposed by Andrea Lunsford, a Stanford English professor whose one of America’s leading researchers, where she states “today’s freshmen- comp essays are over six times longer than they were back then and also generally more complex” (Thompson, 66). This quote addresses to us that what people think of the younger generation is mostly wrong which could be applied to the subjects of us using the internet and social media. This can be related to how the older generation thinks that social media is ruining our brains and making us robots, which could be opposed by many people including Thompson. By discussing these rebuttals it portrays that what Thompson is saying does have opposing sides to it and it allows us to be able to disagree with him without feeling wrong, but they also make his argument stronger by showing us that he understands the opposing sides.
As you read Thompsons, “Public Thinking” you may find yourself agreeing with what he is saying or believing his story. This may be because you have the same position as him on these matters or it may be because he is using one of his major strengths, his credible evidence. Throughout Thompson’s article he uses various types of evidence with authoritative credibility from sources such as Universities Research, or connectable stories to back up his arguments in forms of examples or statistics. For example, when he speaks upon the audience effect, after explaining it he follows it up with results from an experiment done by Vanderbilt University on small children, and also another experiment with college students. By providing two different experiments done it provides us two different sides that have the same results, giving us a reason to believe it is true and credible. Another example is that he provides an incredible amount of statistics in the beginning of his article, which starts his argument off strong drawing his readers in to believe and help take his side of the argument. Without his credible examples, evidence, and statistics it would be harder to agree with him, believe his stories or claims and also his argument would not be as strong as it is.
On the other hand, Thompsons article isn’t perfect as he lacks in some areas, specifically his uses of examples, as he doesn’t provide details to back them up or relate to his argument. Throughout his argument he provides statistics, examples, and facts and then leaves them without giving detail on why it pertains to his argument or what the purpose is of it. An example of this is when he speaks upon the United Kingdom and their peak letter- writing years and how the United States’ writing of letters expanded when the United States Postal Service made sending mail cheaper. After introducing this story and expanding upon it for a whole paragraph he provides no connection to his argument and it is somewhat confusing. When stories and examples are just thrown in like this it not only confuses the reader but it isn’t a good strategy if he is trying to convince us. Although he does this, I still thought his strengths outweigh his weaknesses and I found his argument convincing.
After reading “Public Thinking” it has opened my eyes into what the internet and social media can actually do for us like, clarify our thinking, improve our memories, and it has taught me how the creation of the internet has influenced us to write more than we would ever expect. His evidence and claims had led me to agree with his argument strongly. Throughout my life growing up in this generation I have always been told that I was going to have eye issues from staring at a screen, or not be able to communicate because we only communicate through our phones, but by reading Thompson’s argument I can now confidently backfire some research and statistical data that the internet and social media are actually helping this generation and even the others rather than hurting.
Thompson, Clive. Smarter than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better. The Penguin Press, 2014.
Thompson, Clive. “Bio.” Clive Thompson, 14 Apr. 2016, clivethompson.net/bio/.