New phone, new laptop, and disoriented

I had the opportunity this past week to replace both my smartphone and my work laptop. One had to happen, the other was a scheduled replacement.

Photo by Life Of Pix on

Both experiences were disorienting in multiple ways. They required time that I did not necessarily have in my schedule to acquire the new device and set it up in ways consistent with the old devices. Because they are newer machines, they have some new options to consider. I was temporarily without access to each and what they provide access to in parts of the setup.

And the transition process went rather smoothly. Copying over contacts, apps, and files just took some time. I had to tweak a few settings but they now look and operate similarly (with some nice upgrades) to what I was used to before.

These are not just machines. For many daily tasks, they are extensions of my self. They enable my work and embody my work. They are distributed cognition devices – extending my ability to think, reason, and write – and portals to interactions with people and systems. For them to be altered or unavailable, even for a short time, shakes up my day.

Ultimately, I am glad to have the new devices. My daily activities are back on track. Almost all of the wrinkles of adjusting to new machines has happened. And I hope I do not have to do it again for a while.

Overblown concern about Google “replacing” or “destroying” our memory

The headlines read: “Google ousts brain,” “Google replaces the brain,” “Here’s how Google search is destroying our memory.” These are all based on a new study:

The Internet is becoming our main source of memory instead of our own brains, a study has concluded.

In the age of Google, our minds are adapting so that we are experts at knowing where to find information even though we don’t recall what it is.

The researchers found that when we want to know something we use the Internet as an ‘external memory’ just as computers use an external hard drive…

‘The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.’

This an example of “distributed cognition,” the idea that humans use other sources to extend their brain’s capacity. In this case, memory space in the brain may be freed up by relying on Google and computers to store certain information. Instead of “replacing” the brain, Google is extending the brain and helping humans offload certain information that can helpfully be stored elsewhere. Google isn’t the first technology that allows this; so does the printed page. Rather than storing a bunch of arcane and typically unhelpful information in our head, we could look up basic information in a reference book.

Perhaps people are more concerned about Google itself and the idea that a corporation, an organization more interested in profit than our well-being, may be behind changes in our brain.