BBC Future

Life:Connected

Social media: How life online makes us smarter

How is living online changing us? Author Clive Thompson argues that we shouldn’t fear the likes of Facebook and Twitter because it’s helping us to achieve things we couldn’t have done before.

What are you thinking right now? In the past, thought tended to be more of a private affair. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why some believe that creativity only comes from sitting alone, staring into space.

Yet, as author and journalist Clive Thompson points out, big ideas only come into the world when we share our thinking with others. As he argues in his recent book Smarter Than You Think, bouncing around thoughts and sharing knowledge can boost our brains.

Years ago, Thompson feared the internet would just result in everyone being drowned in trivia and gossip. But from instant messaging to social networks, every time a new technology has come along  he has found people doing interesting, creative and strange things that he could never have predicted. People were using them in ways that helped them to think in different ways, to learn new things and to solve problems they couldn’t have solved before.

Many of the successful tools in the last 10 years are ones that have enhanced pre-existing modes of thought. The reason why people love seeing what other people are doing or thinking on the likes of Facebook or Twitter is that we love doing it offline – we’re social animals.

And that is why, he says, the internet in the 21st Century has become a humongous idea-making machine. Never before have we been able to disseminate our ideas with so many people, all over the world.

So while it might be hard to see how spending all day on Facebook can be a good thing, Thompson argues that logging on could help spark a little bit of genius in us all.

Clive Thompson spoke to BBC Future at SXSW Interactive in Austin Texas. 

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