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