The Magic of the Information Age

Being able to externalize our memory and decision-making capacity is what the information age is all about …..

….. editorial by Paul D Kennedy

The magic of the information age is not that it allows me to know more and make better informed decisions – it enables me to know less and still make the right choices. External minds made up silicon memory systems, networked knowledge, collaborative online filters and consumer preference algorithms are a real boon for oldsters like me.

These cyber minds free me from the need to accumulate and retain mundane knowledge, and allow me to out-source a variety of mental tasks and even leave decision-making to external cognitive servants. I have finally been liberated from a life-time of tedious mental efforts using a fault-prone human brain.

I suppose it all began just over 30 years when I started using a calculator to do my sums. What a relief that was from the mental drudgery of arithmetic!

Nowadays it’s even better. I no longer need a memory at all. When I want to look up the phone number of one of my friends I consult my Blackberry. I read somewhere recently that a third of the under-30s cannot remember their own telephone numbers. So what? They don’t need to. Today’s youngsters can forego their ability to remember even before they start losing it naturally with the passing of time.

When I need to find out something all I have to do is tap my keyboard a couple of times to reap the riches of those external minds. Thank you, Messrs Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia! Networked knowledge would be fabulous if it wasn’t fact.

Or when I want to go somewhere, I just tap the destination into my car’s GPS device and it’s there on the screen – best route, best time to travel, estimated journey time, and so on. I no longer have to find space in the limited capacity of my brain for directions and turns. I can shred all the knowledge of geography I spent a life-time acquiring and externalize it to a satellite brain that warns me when I take a wrong turn.

And no more dithering when trying to find music I like – I log on to iTunes and it recommends what it knows I like. After sampling from a list of songs, I download the ones I really like even though I have never heard of the bands. Once-up-on-a-time I had strong opinions and a brain choked with facts about the Beatles, the Stones, Bob Dylan, et al. But I’ve been able to dump all that junk and enjoy great music thanks to collaborative online filters. What a relief! A light head is so much easier to carry.

As a consumer with finely developed preferences, I’m in totally good hands. I must be one of those people-who-bought-X-also-bought-Y guys. I often marvel at how Amazon can link my purchases of literature with my tastes in ornaments, though I don’t give it as much thought as I used to a few years ago when it was a novelty.

I feel safe now. I hear that the technology is ultra-reliable. If I lose my Blackberry and cannot remember who I am, all I have to do is find my digitalized photo ID, check the face in the photo to the face in the mirror, read the name and voila, I know who I am.

I just hope that I never forget how to read!

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