For over three decades, Clive Thompson has covered how technology shapes and is shaped by the world around us. A longtime contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and a columnist for WIRED, he is 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 plugged into a 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.
Like many social critics before him, Thompson initially had a skeptic’s view of the internet’s impact on our lives, worrying that the swift decline of society and civility would soon follow. But over the decades, he realized that when people were given the power of self-expression on a global scale, amazing and powerful innovations could be unleashed: Wikipedia, self-driving cars, collaborative art, crazy new forms of writing like TV recaps, collaborative problem-solving, and the ESP-like awareness of the ever-updating world around us.
In his latest book Coders, Thompson launches an investigation into the human beings who create the digital infrastructure that our twenty-first century world runs on. Arguably the most powerful “tribe” in the world, computer programmers exert a huge influence on our everyday behavior and to understand the world today, we need to understand code and its consequences. An immersive anthropological reckoning, Coders asks what makes programmers tick: where they come from, how they think, what makes for greatness in their world, and what should give us pause.
“The best survey to date of this world and its people” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), Coders takes readers back to the little-known earliest days of the field and close to the creators behind some of the most influential features of our time: Facebook’s New Feed, Instagram, and Google’s cutting-edge AI, among others. Along the way, Thompson ponders the morality and politics of code, including its implications for civic life and the economy. From the “disruption” fetish of Silicon Valley to the struggle for inclusion by marginalized groups, he wrestles with these major controversies of our era and the human foibles at their roots. At the same time, Coders deftly illustrates how programming has become a marvelous new art form—a source of delight and creativity, not merely danger.
His first book Smarter Than You Think reveals how modern technology is making us—smarter and better connected. 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), innovators are augmenting their minds in inventive ways. Despite widespread anxieties to the contrary, Smarter Than You Think delivers a positive take on the beneficial ways technology has affected our cognition. As New York Magazine noted, “It’s straw men everywhere in this debate. Mercifully, Thompson always works from data, not straw.”
In his talks, Thompson shares his insight on the way that today’s technologies change the way we live and interact, with subjects ranging from the new forms of creativity cultivated by the internet, to the future of work, and the forgotten history of women in coding. He is at work on a book about the world of “micromobility”—forms of transportation loosely classified as smaller than a car.
Today, Thompson is one of our most prominent technology writers, respected for his deeply reported longform stories that cut through headlines to harness the insights of science, art, history, and philosophy. He writes not just about big name inventors, but also 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 the CBC Radio One program Q with Tom Power. He is also one of the longest-running bloggers, having ran his science and tech blog Collision Detection from 2002-2016.here.