Scott Adams, the author and creator of the comic strip Dilbert, last year argued in an essay that smart phones represent a kind of “exobrain” that augments our regular brain, giving us the ability to store and retrieve mountains of information… and to perform tasks – like navigating unfamiliar terrain – which extend our mental capacities.
Does this mean our “endobrain” becomes less developed as a result of having an exobrain? Or does it get to actually focus on deeper, more significant (at least to the brain’s owner) things?
Is technology like an office secretary which allows the CEO to focus on (ostensibly) higher level tasks while someone else handles the more menial, more “grunt work-like” like chores of of day-to-day living?
I think about a story I once heard about Einstein. He bought something like 10 gray suits with matching shirts and ties. The reason? He didn’t want to waste precious mental energy on deciding what to wear every day. He made one good decision and replicated it so that, I imagine, he could ponder the nature of the universe… as opposed to ponder what the heck color socks would match his green tie.
Of course, I used to remember all sorts of phone numbers. No longer. Why? Because they are stored in my phone. Am I less intelligent as a result – or have my neurons been liberated to crack the riddle of the Teen Sphinx? (What does not walk on three legs at night yet think it knows the answer to every riddle it’s posed – and if it does not know the answer it deems the knowledge probably not worth knowing? Or something like that.)
Is there merit to this exobrain argument? Why should kids remember who the major players were in the War of 1812 when the info is readily available to them via google? It’s the lessons to be learned about war, leadership, governance and so on that make knowing the players in that war pertinent – and when schools only test rote memorization about such subject matters, we show our folly. (Not that I really want to devolve into bashing bubble tests right now – but sometimes, I just can’t help it. So often they merely assess such surface level knowledge that if a kid had a smartphone, there’d be nothing to these tests at all – and in an age where more and more and more of us have smart phones, what is the real value of this sort of assessment?)
And for those who posit the argument, “Well, what if the “cloud of computing goes down, where will we be then?” I wonder if they are prepared to cook by open fire and live off of salted meats should the power grids go down in all our cities. Are they ready to live without electricity? This tech is here and, like electricity, we are already dependent on it.
Is there merit in this exobrain theory?