When Your Backup Brain (i.e., Technology) Takes On Primary Memory Functions

from the i'd-say-it's-bad,-but-my-computer-disagrees... dept

For years, we've talked about the idea that computers and the internet are becoming something of a backup or second brain. The more we use these technologies, the more we allow them to remember stuff for us -- knowing we can always track down that information. In fact, Clive Thompson's latest column is about how the generation of kids growing up online tend not to remember little things that older generations definitely remember, like phone numbers and birthdays. Why remember those things when they're easily stored away and easily accessed thanks to technology? While Thompson talks about how nice it is that he can feel much smarter while he's connected, he also worries that it makes him "mentally crippled" when not connected. There may be something to that idea. After all, a few years ago there was a story about Steve Mann, a professor who had been living his life with a wearable computing system for 20 years. At an airport, he was forced to take the apparatus off and immediately had trouble functioning normally. He had become so reliant on the technological enhancements, that being without them left him somewhat crippled. While few people will have reached that point, it's certainly suggestive of what happens if we become too reliant on those external backup brains. That's not to say we shouldn't be using technology for this purpose -- or even that it's not a good thing. However, we should be aware of what it means and potentially the impact should it go away (temporarily or permanently).

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  1. identicon
    Jesse McNelis, 18 Oct 2007 @ 12:30am

    But the same can be said about anything you use.
    I can't spell very well without a keyboard, it's not the spell checking, it's the learned key strokes. But the same thing is true with a lot of people who have to write down a word to work out how to spell it.

    If lost my internet connection Iwould have difficulty doing certain things, but if I lost an arm I'd also have difficulty. In both cases the difficulty wouldn't last long because I would adapt to not rely on something I didn't have.

    It's currently not very likely that the internet is going to go away anytime soon, and if it did then we'd have much worse things to be worried about than not remembering birthdays.
    I'm sure after afew days Steve Mann would have gotten used to functioning without his wearable computer equipment.

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