Driving from the Oakland Airport into San Francisco last week, I saw a huge billboard on the freeway advertising the show "Tales of the Maya Skies" at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center.
Being a Maya astronomy junkie, naturally I was intrigued. But I'd never heard of the Chabot Space and Science Center before, and I was traveling about 65 mph, in the car alone.
A couple of years ago, maybe even as recently as two, I would have fumbled around in my purse for a pen and scribbled the web site URL displayed on the billboard onto whatever scrap of paper I could find. Or maybe I'd just jot down "Cabot Science Center, Oakland" and call information, or look it up online later. Instead, I found myself speeding past the sign, thinking, "Oh, I'll just Google it tonight." I figured inputting "Maya" "museum" and "Oakland" all together would net the desired result--which it did, a few hours later in my hotel room when I remembered to look it up.
Now, you might think, What a cool thing technology is! How great that we have Google for this purpose! I'm not so sure about this, though. Because instead of writing down what I needed, or god forbid bothering to commit it to memory, I willfully chose not to remember information I knew I would later need. And it makes me wonder what such an automatic and cavalier dependence on search engines might do to my memory, or anyone's, over time. Will we not bother to remember certain pieces of data that were once natural for us to commit to memory? If so, will the vacuum be filled by something else, something useful or fulfilling? Or will we just naturally start devaluing the power of memory and instead evolve into a species that lives in a continuous present, with limited or radically different powers of recall? Would we be better off for this, or not?
As a memoirist, this intrigues me, and as a human being, well, it kind of disturbs me to think about. (Though over dinner in SF that night a friend pointed out that I still needed to remember to Google the keywords. So at least there's still that.)
I rely heavily on my powers of recall every day, but what if--assuming I were a frequent blogger which, as you've probably noticed, I am not--instead of having to remember the details of what happened last year, or even last month, I could just go into the search function on my blog and pull it up? I look at my daughters, ages 12 and 8, and can't help wondering: what kind of people will they become if they don't have to memorize data to succeed? If, in fact, your ability to retrieve data quickly and efficiently becomes more important than your ability to store it within your own mind? It seems to me that the way we use our brains will change. To some degree, I suspect this has already started to happen.
And don't even get me started about what texting has done to this next generation's communication skills and fluency with language. U really don't want 2 know.