I was looking through Instagram and came across this post by Thomas Frank. He talks about having a conversation with his mom that somehow led to Mississippi and how he realized he couldn’t think of another city in the state other than Jackson. Like most of us looking up anything factual, he instinctively reached for his phone when she stopped him and encouraged him to try for five minutes just using his meat brain (my term, not theirs).
It struck a cord because I’ve frequently thought about a similar experience that I had several years ago. I have probably only left the house without my phone a handful of times in the last decade, and this may be the only time I actually forgot my phone. I was visiting my sister in Fort Collins, and we left to wander around the old downtown area. Since I didn’t have anything urgent, once I realized I had left my phone on the charger, I didn’t feel the need to go back for it. We stopped by a cocktail bar and I ordered a negroni, but as I was sipping it, I realized that I couldn’t remember what the ingredients were. I had experienced this several times before only to look it up on my phone, go “oh yeah, that was it”, and then immediately forget it a short while later.
But this time I didn’t have my phone with me. So I was left wondering as we were walking along the street. However, later when we wandered into a kitchen supplies shop, I found my way to the bartending supplies and looked it up in one of the cocktail books they were selling (equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth). The funny thing is, ever since then it has always stuck.
I feel like changes in how we seek out information is a phenomenon that has and will continue to evolve over the course of my lifetime. Using the Dewey decimal system at the local library to modern day, two-second Googling could then give way to brain-computer interfaces, like Neuralink is trying to do, where we could Matrix-style download answers directly into our brain from the Internet.
I wonder if by that point though we would “remember” anything or just pull information from the cloud to our brains temporarily as needed. Would you need to mentally click an ‘Available Offline’ tab like in Google Docs if you wanted to “remember” it? Or will we just forget that there was a time when we needed to remember things offline in the first place? I think that the Internet is a magical, if definitely bizarre, place that has had one of the largest positive impacts on society of anything we have created, but I’m curious to see how its evolution will change how we know what we know and what it means to be human. Something to think about, and remember, anyway.