My Outsourced Memory

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us” Marshall McLuhan

Those of us who depend on modern technology to externalize memory storage are just the latest iteration of a long tide of human adaptation. Strategies to make the most of our biological capabilities were developed over countless generations in oral cultures. The invention of writing was the first technology that allowed us to surpass the physical limitations of memory.

I gravitate towards Marshall McLuhan’s perspective that sees technology as extensions of corresponding biologically-based human capability:

  • The telephone extends the human voice, allowing people to communicate over long distances.
  • The printing press extends the human eye, allowing people to read and write at a distance.
  • The radio extends the human ear, allowing people to hear music and other sounds from a distance.
  • The television extends the human eye and ear, allowing people to see and hear events as they happen.
  • The computer extends the human brain, allowing people to process and analyze information more quickly and efficiently.

I wonder what unforeseen human potential will be revealed and biological capabilities muted as our nervous systems and brains are extended through AI tools … and how they will transform our culture and humanity.

The image is from a 2009 Tumblr post.

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