As these things often do, writing and thinking about my last post, far from closing the issue for me, led me to more on the topic. Specifically:
Cory Doctorow’s 2002 essay My Blog, My Outboard Brain…
…and the considerably more recent: Your Outboard Brain Knows All, from Wired
Cory Doctorow’s essay is about his use of his blog, specifically Boing Boing, as external memory as background conversation. I especially like this bit:
Being deprived of my blog right now would be akin to suffering extensive brain-damage. Huge swaths of acquired knowledge would simply vanish.
Clive Thompson’s article is about the internet at large as a cognitive plug-in. And for that, more of a utopian vision; though frankly one expects that from Wired. This is the good bit:
Does an overreliance on machine memory shut down other important ways of understanding the world? There’s another type of intelligence that comes not from rapid-fire pattern recognition but from slowly ingesting and retaining a lifetime’s worth of facts. … We’ve come to think of human intelligence as being like an Intel processor, able to quickly analyze data and spot patterns. Maybe there’s just as much value in the ability to marinate in the seemingly trivial.
Well, yeah, duh. Human knowledge is more than an accumulation of ready reference factoids. Knowledge takes time; or maybe it would be more accurate to say that understanding takes time. Understanding requires soaking in it. Facts are necessary but not sufficient. So while having an outboard brain may increase one’s ability to retrieve data, it won’t do anything to help one’s understanding. At least not at our current level of technology. That’s all you. I might even go so far as to argue that retrieval of facts is not even strictly speaking thinking, that thinking requires time. Retrieval is an IR problem; thinking is an evaluation problem.