I am always amused about talk of a “missing link” between what was recognizably ape and what is recognizably human. But once we have Homo sapiens down, what about changes to our species that may be as significant—if not more significant—to those which we have traditionally associated with the concept of a missing link?
Today, I had lunch at a local Thai restaurant. In the next booth sat a woman who was part of a larger party that had not yet all met up. No sooner did she get seated than she had a long painful conversation with another member of the party which was supposedly looking for the restaurant but had trouble finding it. At no point did she get the name of the restaurant correct (she kept calling it simply “Thai Café”) and never thought to supply the exact street address. All her instructions were with regard to the identities of nearby retail establishments. If her friend was several blocks away, he would have no more luck finding the “Thai Café” than the stores in its immediate vicinity.
The thought suddenly hit me that the smart phone has introduced new ways of thinking. No longer is any sort of advance preparation required for anything. One can simply make a phone call and use relational markers to home a friend in to the desired location employing fuzzy logic of a sort.
Man has developed increasingly sophisticated tools for tens of thousands of years, but for the first time we are approaching the point where we are using tools to change ourselves and our very thought processes. It is possible, for example, that the smart phone may be as significant for the human race as Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type. If we ever improve robots to the point that we can communicate with them, that may be even more significant. In both cases, man is delegating his own brain powers to a device that parses, stores, and possibly communicates commands.
What do you suppose the effect of that will be on the human brain? Perhaps it will begin to atrophy. Once one has a truly smart phone, one does not have to think for oneself any more.
I’m not sure I would like that development, or should I say retrogression?