Smart Devices; Secondary Brains

I am currently doing a project at work looking at how academics use iPads for teaching, research and administrative tasks. The project is 6 months old and there are some exciting preliminary findings. There is one specific finding that will be of interest to the readers of this blog.

I believe that even if you don’t have a tablet device; you are likely to own a smartphone. Most of us can barely function without them. It is interesting that making phone calls is now one of the least used functions of the typical smartphone. Most of the time on the smartphone is spent online and this is usually on one of the popular social media sites like Facebook.

I have been reading a number of books by Marshall McLuhan for the iPad project. He was a Canadian media theorist with some insightful observations on the impact of technology on society. He said that technology is an extension of man’s body and senses hence a hammer is an extension of the hand and the automobile is an extension of the leg. He also said that the computer is an extension of the brain.

I would also argue that our smart devices have become our secondary brains as well. People are no longer retaining factual information in their heads anymore. We are outsourcing our memory to our phones and tablets. It is much easier to look up factual information than to store them in our own memory for recollection. This means we are becoming more dependent our smart devices to remember things. It takes less time to look up on our smart device the name of the actor of the movie which we are currently watching but whose name we have forgotten than try to recall it.

One could argue that this dependency on smart devices as our secondary brains could be a beneficial rather than detrimental thing. Outsourcing the storage of factual information to our smart devices means that our brains are free to do higher level cognitive thinking because it is not bogged down by too many unnecessary facts.

This funny anecdote about Albert Einstein illustrates this point.

“A reporter interviewed Albert Einstein. At the end of the interview, the reporter asked if he could have Einstein’s phone number so he could call if he had further questions.

“Certainly” replied Einstein. He picked up the phone directory and looked up his phone number, then wrote it on a slip of paper and handed it to the reporter.

Dumbfounded, the reporter said, “You are considered to be the smartest man in the world and you can’t remember your own phone number?”

Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it? (Story via Phil Edwards)


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2 Responses to Smart Devices; Secondary Brains

  1. Theres’ s some stuff my Alex Harris did with trends which support your point precisely 🙂

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