Is the internet an extension of our brains now...

Or is it a crutch?

I was out in my backyard and I had a question about the lyrics of a song in my head. I immediately looked for my phone. That got me thinking. Do we depend upon search engines too much? Are we thinking less?

I’m probably overthinking this. Or underthinking it. :)

Any thoughts?


A job interviewer got miffed at me in 2008 because he said the Internet extended his brain so knowing facts didn’t matter and I said memorization was still better. I didn’t get the job. Maybe he’s right in 2021?

Memorisation really doesn’t matter near as much in 2021. Being able to find what you need and getting the correct information efficiently is more useful.

As a software developer, I certainly make liberal use of the knowledge out there. And my coding is no worse for it. It’s how the information is applied which matters.

Same for boardgames. Rather than pore once again over a 30 pages rulebook, I’ll just Google the answer to my question. Chances are it’s been answered before.

I’m old school and I still remember some stuff, but I’m happy to let the net remember most things for me. Also, 15 year old me would be very surprised at how few phone numbers I know by heart these days. Most of those are landlines that I knew back then. :)

Heh. Thanks for that. But I want the extension of my brain that is Qt3 to tell me first. :)

I look at it this way. For a while we spent a lot of our time hunting, and then we discovered agriculture. This gave us more time and brain space to do things like build cities and create languages. Then for a while we had to remember things like phone numbers and such, and now we have all that data with us at all times in another device, which will hopefully give us more time and brain space to ultimately be even more creative and ultimately better people.

One can hope.

My feeling is that eventually we will have brain implants that are connected all of the time.

Unless we make the Earth into a new version of Venus.


The best teachers I had in college were the ones who espoused this theory. I

I totally want a BrainPal.

You’re here, asking. What do you think?

I do think this is really about to flip for software in particular with tools like Github CoPilot bringing efficient googling right into the editor, and when it starts to work mostly correctly, doing the hard work of adapting StackOverflow answers to your particular language version and set of imports or interfaces or whatever.

Before then, though, I think the people who know their language, standard library and distribution method cold still smoke those of us who need to look things up–but only in contexts where it’s more important for a single mind to do something very difficult than it is for a group of people to adapt to changing requirements and tools. E.g. I would agree with an indie game developer like Cliff Harris that he needs to know his game development stack absolutely cold to be as prolific as he is. I also wouldn’t think he’d be a good member of my development team where we need to do each consulting engagement differently. And I in turn am tuned a little too far towards speedy with certain tools to do well when a totally new JS stack is required with each new engagement.

To some extent I think it is contextual. Where doing stuff on the fly or in cases where you don’t have connections or using a device like a phone might be impractical (or impolitic), having info at hand can be a lifesaver. And it gives you confidence, too, if you can instantly recall something necessary when someone asks.

In general, though, I tell my students that the key thing is knowing how to get info, and what info to get. I let them use their devices in class, in fact I encourage it, to look stuff up and get data for building arguments. The challenge for me is to build their understanding of information literacy, from how to search for the right info to how to tell what information is good/useful/accurate and what is not.

As I tell them, “Don’t ask me for dates and other trivial; that’s what Wiki is for.”

I think learning by committing things to memory remains worthwhile. There’s a qualitative difference between knowing something, and “knowing” something briefly.

Also, memorization is good for your brain. Drill, baby, drill!

That said, I won’t be giving up Wikipedia, Shazam, or Google Maps any time soon.

It’s the difference between CPU cache and hard drive. It would be a bold soul who would give up on the cache completely.

Language certainly long predates agriculture. Also agriculture is more time-intensive than hunting and gathering. What it did was let some people commandeer the time of others so they could sit around dreaming up monuments to their grandeur like cities.

Man, great question. I couldn’t remember the name of a movie for the 20:20 game and anyone who’s played that can tell you how hard it is to NOT do what we normally do: go look up or search for things. I’ve been walking around all day trying different techniques to remember the movie name but it’s not coming to me at all. But I’m old enough that I think of the internet as a tool, not an extension of my brain. Don’t get me wrong, there are applications out there that border on that for me. Microsoft OneNote for work and Google Keep for home. Without them I’m at a loss for things I used to memorize.

But again, a lot of us here are just old enough it wasn’t a crutch for a significant time. I’ve taken Cisco’s CCIE certification test multiple times, it has always been open book, meaning you can search for documentation within a limited set of Cisco knowledge during the test. That makes literally zero difference. In fact, it slows you down tremendously. If you don’t know that knowledge well enough to draw on it from memory, you’re going to have a very bad time. I would suspect things like passing the bar exam for lawyers or the CPA tests for accountants is very similar. If I gave someone with zero knowledge the keys to all the info but limited the time of the test, many (most) would never pass.

And so it goes at work. We have the convenience today of being able to just internet search for similarities to damn near anything. Hell, we’ve had an interviewee do just that while we were interviewing him. But true knowledge does shine through in other ways. I guess the real question is, does it really matter 20 years from now? Aren’t we all going to be using that tool as an extension of our brain as you mention today? Hell, might we be hooked up biometrically in some way even? Doesn’t it take, ‘group think,’ to a new level? Or do we all become the same due to that?

One of the things that differentiates many of the older folks in certain jobs at work is that history of things we’ve seen in the job over time. As more and more of that knowledge gets put online, where does that really leave experience as a differentiation point among everyone working?

Something that I do, which often works, is that I think about the thing that I can’t remember right before I go to sleep. I essentially pose a question to my sub / unconscious. Then I try to forget about it. I know it’s there, it just has to be brought to ‘the surface’ I guess?

Then I’ll wake up during the night and it’s there. That’s right, that’s her name! Give it a shot. :)

That’s the way we’re headed, and it should scare the bejeezus out of people. Imagine how incredibly vulnerable a wifi connected computer in your head would actually make you. There’s no way to secure a device sufficiently. It could completely alter your perceptions, overwrite your opinions, feed you an entirely false reality. To say nothing of just killing your outright with trivial ease.

Luddite! Bow down to our implant overlords.

They’re forcing me to say this.