What to store in our heads?

February 22, 2010


I’ll start with what sounds like a silly question: Which brain do you do most of your thinking with, the spongy one in your head or the electronic wonder at your fingertips? Which one stores more of your memories, and stitches together the webs of your friendships?

Even a decade ago, the answer would have been obvious. We depended on the prodigious thinking machine we carry between our ears, the most sophisticated work of circuitry known in the universe. But in recent years we’ve been turning to the giant and fast-expanding external brain we all share. The networked world, its vast air-conditioned data centers linked by neurons of fiber-optic cables, answers our questions, corrects our spelling and details not only our location, but the annual rainfall and average annual income there, and the name, weight and mating habits of the species most likely to climb the back fence and ravage the tomato plants. Unlike our own faulty equipment, this brain forgets nothing.    

While our brains have stayed more or less the same for 40,000 years, treading evolutionary water from the Cro-Magnon cave painters to Quentin Tarantino...