First things first….  Finally got round to catching up with my Google Reader feeds from the weekend.  I use “Gruml” on the Mac for this, and “NewsRack” on the iPhone and if I really have to, then just a good old browser on a PC. However, when the unread counter is over a thousand I have a new policy. “Mark All As Read” and start again.  Life’s too short and there’s too much information….

This brings me on to some interesting thoughts on the nature of human intelligence in the Internet age.

I’ve read a couple of articles recently that have talked about the way the human brain works while surfing the Internet. If I’ve understood the concepts and got it right then what I found surprising is that we use a different area of our brain when we surf compared to say, trying to solve a problem. Apparently we use our short term memory far more when ingesting new information and so these are the synapses that get fired the most when reading the wealth of material available to us.  The problems arise when we have so much of this information that we suffer a sort of short-term memory overload to the point that using your short-term storage becomes the norm.  When that happens, things aren’t committed to the longer term memory and so are forgotten altogether.  Essentially we forget to analyse in any depth the stuff we find interesting.

Now this has started some healthy debate of the dangers of surfing – ie: over utilising your short term memory in the longer term or in tabloid form: “Surfing makes you stupid” but does it?

I’d argue it doesn’t. It just changes the way you think about things.  I’m sure you’ve noticed yourself saying “I’ll just google it” and such like. This doesn’t mean you’re stupid – it just means there are easier ways to uncover bits of information than we are traditionally used to.

Let’s face it, 10 years ago if someone had said to you “Do the BBC have a clock?” what would you have done ? Other than respond with “I’ve no idea, you’ll have to ask them”.  Now, you’d google “BBC Clock” and get something like this or this. (Truly awesome).  Just because you can get the answer to (just about) anything very very quickly doesn’t make you stupid. It should actually be freeing up the areas of your brain that were being used for storing all that useless information to re-use for analysing the now enormous volumes of fresh data that we can find every moment of the day.

So, perhaps what we’re really seeing is an evolution in the way we use our brains, and as long as we keep the machines going to manage the record of human knowledge (as digitised as it is so far) then we have nothing to fear in this change.  In fact if we take it to a logical conclusion, the machines are the new library and perhaps in time, the storage will be more like this:

Interesting that a concept like this existed long before any of the tools to begin to achieve it did and that it was a man from Bromley who wrote it in a book in 1895.  More terrifying is the thought that we could actually end up as Eloi and Morlocks. The Eloi being the lazy good for nothings with no interest in the past and everything at their fingertips (Google surfers) while the Morlocks, the hardworking underground dwelling workers, maintain the systems that hold all human knowledge.  Well, it’s possible…..   If a little unlikely.  Makes for a good story though. Kudos to Mr. Wells.

But wait second….  If Mr Wells came up with in 1895, is it possible that he had actually travelled through time ?  As we all know time travel is perfectly possible and a completely natural thing for humans to do. The problem with it as we understand it today, is that it’s a one way trip only.  Like you, I spend all my time travelling into the future.  The real genius will come when one of us figures out a way to go backwards, or even forwards faster than the rest of us and while I’d romantically like to think that H.G. had made such a journey, I remain unconvinced.

There is a little sniff of evidence in the form of his self penned epitaph: “I told you so. You damned fools.” and of course he’s famed for his science fiction writing, but as yet I’ve not seen an “Invisible Man” (I wonder why?), or heard about the “War of the Worlds” or even seen “The First Men in the Moon“, “on” no problem, but not “in”. As for “The Shape of Things to Come“… other than predicting submarines and wikipedia, it looks like he missed the mark.

Still, let’s not wish our lives away – there’s far too much to do now, let alone if we were on fast-forward.  But then it’s not for me to fill up the Internet (and your RSS feed) with all this pondering. Your brain’s got enough to deal with already. Luckily, neither of us have to worry. It’s all here already: H.G.Wells’ The Time MAchine and How Stuff Works: Time Travel


References:
The Time Machine Back to the Future: 25th Anniversary Trilogy (+ Digital Copy) [Blu-ray] Hot Tub Time Machine (Unrated) [Blu-ray] The Time Traveler's Wife [Blu-ray]H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon

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