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This Is Your Brain on Google


Sep 24 2013
When digital dependence takes over what we once knew by heart.

A Google engineer predicted, "We'll be uploading our entire minds to computers by 2045, and our bodies will be replaced by machines within 90 years." In response, some Christians warned that offloading our minds to computers and bolstering our own bodies with technology presents us with a high-tech sense of Gnosticism.

At the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in June, Russell Moore briefly mentioned, in a list of future challenges for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the question of whether artificially intelligent cyborgs should be baptized.

Given a trajectory that seems straight out of sci-fi, I'm worried about the future—specifically what technological advancements mean for our embodied, thinking, knowing, feeling human minds.

These days, we still say things like "I don't know how" and "I can't remember it," but our ignorance rarely lasts long. Seconds later, it gets pulled up on Google or YouTube. The information we don't know is so close—quite literally at our fingertips—that we forget we don't know it. The dozens of phone numbers saved in my address book. The recipes saved on my Pinterest board. Google Maps to the nearest whatever. That Bible verse I'm trying to think of.

We instinctually ask our laptops and smartphones to tell us and teach us, things we once relied on other people to do. In a piece in The Atlanticentitled "YouTube Is My Father," Michael Anthony Adams describes how he learned to tie a tie and fix a flat from online video clips—an experience we've all had for some task or another (for me, it's how to apply makeup).

The Internet, in all its lifesaving assistance, in all its infinite wisdom, has become a digital realm of information. We jokingly ask each other, "What did we do before it?" and "What would we do without it?," knowing that we're irreversibly hooked. A TIME magazine survey confirms our smartphone addiction:

1 in 4 people check it every 30 minutes, 1 in 5 every 10 minutes. A third of respondents admitted that being without their mobile for even short periods leaves them feeling anxious. It is a form of sustenance, that constant feed of news and notes and nonsense, to the point that twice as many people would pick their phone over their lunch if forced to choose. Three-quarters of 25-to-29-year-olds sleep with their phones.

We walk, talk, and sleep in a constantly connected world. In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr writes, "The boons are real. But they come at a price…. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought." Just as word processing made it pretty much impossible for us to write without a computer screen and a delete key, the searchable Internet is changing how we think.

Related Topics:Internet; Technology

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