Clive Thompson is a longtime contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a columnist for Wired, and the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better and Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World.
As a child growing up in Toronto in the 1970s and 80s, Thompson became fascinated with the first “home computers”—the ones you plugged into your TV, like the Commodore 64, and programmed using BASIC. He was hooked, spending hours writing video games, music programs, and simple forms of artificial intelligence. The obsession stuck with him, even as he went to the University of Toronto to study poetry and political science. When he became a magazine writer in the 1990s, the internet erupted into the mainstream, and he began reporting on how digital tools—everything from email to digital photography to instant messaging—were changing society.
Thompson began with a pessimistic view of the internet’s impact on our lives. He worried, like many social critics before him, that society and civility would fall off a cliff. But over the next twenty years, he realized that more often than not when people were given the power of self-expression on a global scale, they produced amazing innovations: Wikipedia, YouTube, collaborative art, crazy new forms of writing like TV recaps, collaborative problem-solving, and the ESP-like awareness that comes from the status-update universe.
Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better reveals how modern technology is making us smarter and better connected, as individuals and as a society, despite widespread anxieties to the contrary. From pioneers (Chinese students who mounted an online movement that shut down a $1.6 billion toxic copper plant) to amateurs (a global set of gamers who solved a puzzle that had baffled HIV research scientists for a decade), Smarter Than You Think embraces and extols this transformation, presenting an exciting vision of the present and the future.
His latest book continues Thompson’s exploration into the intersections of technology and human experience. Coders is an immersive anthropological reckoning with the most powerful tribe in the world today, computer programmers: where they come from, how they think, what makes for greatness in their world, and what should give us pause. In nuanced portraits, Coders takes us close to some of the great programmers of our time, including the creators of Facebook’s New Feed, Instagram, Google’s cutting-edge AI, and more. Along the way, Coders thoughtfully ponders the morality and politics of code, including its implications for civic life and the economy. Programmers shape our everyday behavior: When they make something easy to do, we do more of it. When they make it hard or impossible, we do less of it. Thompson wrestles with the major controversies of our era, from the “disruption” fetish of Silicon Valley to the struggle for inclusion by marginalized groups.
Today, Thompson is one of our most prominent technology writers, respected for his deeply reported longform stories that get beyond headlines to harness the insights of science, literature, history, and philosophy. He writes not only about inventors, but also about how everyday people use technology—often quite unpredictably. In addition to The New York Times Magazine and Wired, he writes for Mother Jones and Smithsonian and is the tech consultant for CBC’s Q radio program. He is also one of the longest-running bloggers, having launched his science and tech blog Collision Detection in 2002.