This somewhat satirical article – The Outsourced Brain – proclaims: “I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.”
As Dave Snowden has indicated, it’s tough to determine the level of irony intended by the author. I assume it is at least somewhat ironic/tongue-in-cheek. But, I think it begins to tackle a reality we all deal with; namely, that many “lower level” cognitive tasks are now happily performed on our behalf by technology. This assumes somewhat of a clear demarcation between where I end and the tools I use start. The concept of “what is mind” is important here. Do the tools I use to extend my cognitive functioning constitute a portion of my mind? Andy Clark states as much: “For we shall be Cyborgs not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires, but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and non-biological circuitry.”
It may seem somewhat overstated by Clark. but consider your daily habits and what has already been offloaded to some type technology. Likely travel, meal preparations, access to information, communication with colleagues, writing (well, writing in any form could be regarded as a technology that extends our minds), and so on. Last November, I posted an article (.doc) suggesting that much of our life (or learning) is about externalizing ourselves – i.e. making what is in our minds available to others. Those attempts to externalize – through language, symbols, emotions – are precisely what enables us to extend ourselves. Or to join ourselves to others – to connect with and be a part of a network of humanity. I’m still a bit unsure about my cyborg future, but I can comfortably say that my mind is increasingly distributed and networked through the many tools I use on a daily basis. The depth and breadth of our learning networks today are not possible without the activities of externalization and extension of ourselves through technology.