Outsourcing our memory

This weekend, I read a fascinating article about Clive Thompson’s book Smarter than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better.  In the book, Thompson expands upon Bush’s memex and Engelbart’s theory of augmentation, arguing that “outsourcing” some of our memories enables “extraordinary dot collecting…by access to knowledge beyond what our heads can hold–because, as Amanda Palmer poignantly put it, ‘we can only connect the dots we collect,’ and the outsourcing of memory has exponentially enlarged our dot collections.”

Thompson’s analysis fits in well with our discussions: he traces resistance to technology throughout history, including Socrates’ objection to writing and its effects on memory and the creation and development of libraries as places to store and organize knowledge.  He notes a difference now, however:

The history of factual memory has been fairly predictable up until now. With each innovation, we’ve outsourced more information, then worked to make searching more efficient. Yet somehow, the Internet age feels different. Quickly pulling up [the answer to a specific esoteric question] on Google seems different from looking up a bit of trivia in an encyclopedia. It’s less like consulting a book than like asking someone a question, consulting a supersmart friend who lurks within our phones.


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