That the tools and technologies we use act as extensions to our brains is nothing new: this is the extended mind theory. Indeed, last year I pointed to Carl Zimmer arguing that Google–and thus the Internet as a whole–was an extended mind.
However, Scott Adams’ take on the ‘exobrain’ is simultaneously the most concise and comprehensive I’ve seen:
I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of manipulating our environment to extend our brains. I suppose it all started with early humans carving on cave walls as a way to store historical data. Now we have ebooks, computers, and cell phones to store our memories. [â€¦] Even a house is a device for storing data. Specifically, a house stores data on how it was built. A skilled builder can study a house and build another just like it.
Everything we create becomes a de facto data storage device and brain accessory. A wall can be a physical storage device for land survey data, it can be a reminder of history, and it can be a trigger of personal memories.
A business is also a way to store data. As a restaurant owner, I was fascinated at how employees came and went, but their best ideas often stayed with the business, especially in the kitchen. The restaurant was like a giant data filter. The bad ideas were tested and deleted while the good ideas stayed, most often without being written down. [â€¦]
I suppose other creatures use their environment for storing information, or programming their brains in limited ways. But I assume humans export the highest percentage of brain function to their environment, and it grows daily. [â€¦] Humans are turning the entire planet into an exobrain. Our brains can’t hold all of the data we produce, so we look for ways to offload to books, websites, music, and architecture, to name a few storage devices. And we manipulate the environment to reprogram our brains as needed.