The Internet has changed the way we communicate, but it also might be changing the way we think, especially as smartphones and other mobile devices become more common.
“Many of us now carry our smartphones with us everywhere, and high-speed data networks blanket the developed world,” Will Oremus wrote in Slate. “If I asked you the capital of Angola, it would hardly matter anymore whether you knew it off the top of your head. Pull out your phone and repeat the question using Google (News - Alert) Voice Search, and a mechanized voice will shoot back, ‘Luanda.’ When it comes to trivia, the difference between a world-class savant and your average modern technophile is perhaps five seconds. And Watson’s Jeopardy! triumph over Ken Jennings suggests even that time lag might soon be erased—especially as wearable technology like Google Glass begins to collapse the distance between our minds and the cloud.”
The advent of mobile technology, combined with the Internet to enable people to remember more things, is an example of what philosophers Andy Clark and David Chalmers called in 1998 the “extended mind.” It also turns one of the oldest arguments in philosophy: the “Mind-Body” problem, the question of whether what we call the mind is something separate from the body or merely just a part of it, on its ear.
The development of services like Evernote (News - Alert) also bears out the predictions that Vannevar Bush made in his seminal article published in The Atlantic in 1945: “As We May Think.” In it, he described a device called the Memex, which strikes modern readers as being similar to the modern Internet.
The Memex is “a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”
Although both the Slate article and the Atlantic article are both worth reading in their entirety, some of tools pointed in the former include an app that uses Evernote to remember people a user has met, and Google Glass, which Bush’s article also anticipates.
But will all this reliance on technology kill knowledge? Oremus disagrees, citing Albert Einstein’s disdain for memorization, preferring to rely on reference books.
“Just as calculators enable math students to focus on theorems and proofs,” Oremus wrote, “ubiquitous access to the contents of Wikipedia and the Web at large could allow us to devote more cognitive space to thinking critically and building bridges between ideas. In other words, far better than turning us into Rain Man, the Internet could make us all a little more like Einstein.”
Edited by Braden Becker