The Outsourced Brain, from the NY Times
Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.
With all due respect to David Brooks, the magic of the information age is not that it allows us to know less. The magic of the information age is that it allows us to know different things. As Samuel Johnson is supposed to have said, “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” Technology allows us to move away from the former and increasingly towards the latter. Brooks now doesn’t need to know how to navigate, but he needs to know how to use his GPS. He no longer needs to have a memory, but he needs to know how to use Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia to find the information he wants. Technology, especially cognitive technology, allows knowledge to be increasingly internal: you need to know less about the world, but you need to know more about yourself and what you need to do. Does this make us more self-aware or more solipsistic? I don’t know.