Happy Birthday, dear Google . . .

Today, September 27th, 2012 marks the fourteenth birthday of Google. (I googled it.) Wikipedia (according to itself) celebrated its eleventh birthday last January 15th. The iPhone (according to a news item in the LA Times I used mine to pull up) had its fifth birthday last June 29th. Each of these innovations have changed our world in their own right, but the three of them together have had a kick that reminds me of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon becoming nitroglycerin.*

*Upon reading, this my husband, who is a walking encyclopedia, (see below) said I forgot to mention hydrogen in the nitroglycerin compound. Rather than throw out the analogy, let’s pretend hydrogen atoms are the people using the technology.

While we’ve been learning to reach for our iPhones to Google Wikipedia,  our humor has become increasingly referential as well. Seth MacFarlane for example, leads us down ever-more-elaborate halls of mirrors in his hit show Family Guy.

Of course neuroscientists, psychologists and sociologists are studying the myriad ways this ubiquitous digital technology affects us. Some of their findings are surprising, others . . . not so much to those of us old enough to have been firmly entrenched in adult life in the slower, more deliberate, analogue days.

It stands to reason that there’s less social currency in being a walking encyclopedia in a world where everyone walks around with access to an encyclopedia. But I’ve noticed something else as well: The more these tools are available, the less I trust my own memory. (“No wonder,” you say after the nitroglycerin debacle.) Regardless, the less I trust my own memory, the more I double check. The more I double check, the less I commit to memory. . .  and so on.

When it comes to facts at our fingertips, there is a thin line between usefulness and compulsion. Once we cross that line, we become like the guidebook-happy tourist whose every experience either confirms what he read, or will be confirmed by what he is about to read.

We are the last generation to remember digging through our pockets for change to buy a hamburger instead of swiping a card. And we are the last generation to remember searching our minds for facts instead of searching the internet. With that thought, I bring you Billy Collins’ 1999 poem Forgetfulness.

(c) 2012, Caroline Sposto

51 responses

  1. The old memory sure is a problem, but hopefully, by tomorrow, we will have forgotten about it. The problem that is, not tomorrow.

    Oh, and Happy Birthday, Caroline. (or was it your husbands ?) Never mind, I’ll google it.




    1. Thanks, Cartoonick! Your wit made my day. — Caroline

  2. Great post! Thank you. :)

  3. cool! google wikipedia on an iphone?!! great! well done!

  4. Oh yes!! While I still have access to a great deal of useless trivia in my head, I have recently noticed my own increased reliance upon the Internet for information. Many of my colleagues are still amazed by the speed at which I can respond to a tricky question, but more often than not, it’s because of my Internet research skills, rather than my memory.

    Sad really, and a little scary. In another 10 years, will we “know” anything?

    1. Interesting point. If I meet your colleagues, I won’t let on. (wink!) Caroline

      1. Hehe…some of them have figured it out. A few weeks ago, I was talking to one workmate on the phone; she mentioned something that she was curious about, I Googled it while we continued talking about other issues; then I gave her the answer…”Oh, by the way…”. There was a pause and then she said, “You just Googled that, didn’t you?”. :)

  5. A great statement about how necessity or lack thereof controls how we go about our daily lives. You didn’t have access so you trained yourself to memorize and learn, and now that necessity is gone. No wonder our world slowly gets dumber as time goes on…. less need for common sense and general intelligence.

  6. Once upon a time I had all of my friends phone numbers–as well as my favorite businesses’ numbers–committed to memory. Now I don’t know the numbers of my closest friends (though sometimes they look vaguely familiar). Once upon that same time, my memory was quick and sharp. Use it or lose it, right? Right.

  7. It is an interesting viewpoint. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Really good post….Agreeing with your viewpoint..

    thank you…

  9. Cant live without it! But it has also helped us in feeding more information in our minds which was not easily accessible before. Nice post.

  10. You are so right! Great!

  11. Interesting concept! There’s a dearth of humor in our world. Good stuff!

  12. Cliff Clavin from Cheers would be obsolete in today’s world. *sigh*

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  13. I thought only humans and animals had birthdays! What will we be celebrating next? http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  14. Agree! Since the advent of cellphones, how many of us actually remember more than 10 phone numbers?

  15. I can’t believe they started 14 years ago. I remember when the Internet first got started and you had to pay to visit websites. Anyone else remember that?

  16. It seems incredible to me just how absolutely new, in human terms, the things are that form integral elements of our lives today. Who could imagine a day without reference to Google or Wikipedia?

    And I wonder who remembers, now, that the number it’s referencing – 10100 – is actually spelt ‘Googol’ – a nonsense word, used by Edward Kasner to name the number, originally coined by his nine-year old nephew in 1938.

  17. Something happened to the exponent in my comment! Ten-to-the-power-of-one-hundred. :-)

  18. I had forgotten the punctuation from the first four lines of John Keats’ poem, “Ode to a Nightingale”, which contains the answer to “the mystical river beginning with L” referred to in the video – hence the copy and paste:

    “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
    Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:”

    It really did take a long time to remember *which* poem it was though!
    Do not ask me to recite the whole poem; I cannot remember what I never learnt by heart in the first place. :)
    Congratulations on being freshly pressed.

    1. Alas, Allison, you’re right. My mother used to be able to recite great poems for every occasion. She was the end of an era. Now we show each other YouTube videos. Kudos to you for adding some Keats to the conversation. It gives us a little class. — Caroline

  19. excellent post and so true. congrats on being freshly pressed.

  20. While it might be true that having seemingly infinite information at our finger tips may make us lazy thinkers, I love having the ability. I am from the analogue days, and remember well how learning new information often meant a trip to the library. Certainly the time I spend researching with the Internet vs. going to the library card catalog (Remember those?) is useful. Perhaps the effort which used to be spent searching our minds can now be applied differently and usefully. Thanks for provoking some thoughts. :-)

    1. Dear Dawn – I wish I were enough of a purist to argue with you, but I see your point. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. — Caroline

  21. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!

  22. I failed a Year 11 history assignment because I conducted all my research using books from the school library. The information was inadequate and out-of-date (it was a low-funded government country school that could barely afford chairs with four legs, let alone decent library books).

    When my teacher asked me why I didn’t use the internet for research, my response was: “What’s the internet?”

    That was 1998. How times have changed.

    1. I’ve been reflecting on that anecdote for a while. It’s interesting and worth retelling. Theasurus, you are a witness to history! Thanks for sharing. — Caroline

  23. What a fantastic post! I love the video and poem.
    I think you are so right about memory. It occurred to me the other day that I rely on the computer for facts instead of making my brain work until it hurts to recall a name or a place. Hey at least I recall thinking about it. Give me a few more years and my memory will resemble that existential video!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the video. Billy Collins is great right off the page, but the media interpretations are stellar. — Caroline

  24. Very interesting! Something to ponder. I also find that I can’t wait to see if I’ll remember something. If I can’t remember the name of what’s-her-face in that-one-movie-with-the-aliens I have to Google it right away. :-)

  25. wow what an awesome segue :D you managed to go from a lol worthy post about the irony of where you can find information pertaining to itself (actually giggled so hard i snorted when i read that bit btw) into something a lot more meaningful.

    we are a changing generation and we are a generation changed from the one before us. progress is like that. I’d rather not see EVERYTHING digitised, i quite like the feel of money, but whatever, so long as I can google how to abnk safely online and get my news from an app or twitter, I guess my world will keep turning :D

    (i’m kidding, i’m a trainee teenage journalist which makes me one of the last people on earth to actually read a newspaper… then tweet about what I read… :P)

    loved the post! :D

    1. So pleased to learn about your goals – and your “old school” reading habits! Makes me feel there’s hope. — Caroline

  26. Infotmative and interesting post. Google rocks!

  27. Wow! This one is really cool information I never knew Googs (Google) and I were born on the same day.

  28. This is a very interesting post, yes these wonderful new technologies do offer us a plethora of opportunities and benefits, but I think at the same time a nostalgia for the wonders of writing things down, talking face to face and, as you have so eloquently put it, memory, might perhaps make sure that this techno-oligarchy isn’t unshakeable!

  29. Really enjoyed this post. I remember when the internet was a new and exotic thing, though now I find it hard to be disconnected from it. I am a very recent smartphone convert and love the extra freedoms it gives me, but am also very conscious of those it takes away as I upload little parcels of my life. I felt very sad when it was announced that the Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer be produced in bound, physical book form, and yet would I buy one? Probably not. I love doing good old-fashioned pen and paper crosswords though, and hope that my grandparents were right about the power of crosswords to keep the memory ticking over nicely! And what a moving poem/video that is by Billy Collins/Julian Grey.

    My ramblings are a little incoherent but indicative of the pensive mindset your post put me in – thank you for that! :)

    1. Dear toweastextiles – I liked what you had to say. Thanks for joining the conversation. — Caroline

  30. It’s true! Our brain tries to be efficient and only remembers stuff that it has to…so with the ability to google everything from your iphone you brain takes a vacation! Oh well…

  31. I got drunk in honor of Google.

    And by that I mean I just got drunk.

  32. […] Thursday’s poetry post by Caroline Sposto was featured on the “Freshly Pressed” section of WordPress. […]

  33. Our brains and us are getting stupider and stupider everyday, we’re not going to even notice when Skynet takes over.

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