I travel regularly to places with bad connectivity. Small villages, marginalized communities, indigenous land in remote spots around the globe. Even when it costs me dearly, on a spendy satphone or in gold-plated roaming charges, my search-itch, my tweet twitch, my email toggle, those acquired instincts now persist.
The impulse to grab my iPhone or pivot to the laptop, is now automatic when I'm in a corner my own wetware can't get me out of. The instinct to reach online is so familiar now, I can't remember the daily routine of creative churn without it.
The constant connectivity I enjoy back home means never reaching a dead end. There are no unknowable answers, no stupid questions. The most intimate or not-quite-formed thought is always seconds away from acknowledgement by the great "out there."
The shared mind that is the Internet is a comfort to me. I feel it most strongly when I'm in those far-away places, tweeting about tortillas or volcanoes or voudun kings, but only because in those places, so little else is familiar. But the comfort of connectivity is an important part of my life when I'm back on more familiar ground, and take it for granted.
The smartphone in my pocket yields more nimble answers than an entire paper library, grand and worthy as the library may be. The paper library doesn't move with me throughout the world. The knowledge you carry with you is worth more than the same knowledge it takes more minutes, more miles, more action steps to access. A tweet query, a Wikipedia entry, a Googled text string, all are extensions of the internal folding and unfolding I used to call my own thought. But the thought process that was once mine is now ours, even while in progress, even before it yields a finished work.
That's how the Internet changed the way I think. I used to think of thought as the wobbly, undulating trail I follow to arrive at a final, solid, completed work. The steps you take to the stone marker at the end. But when the end itself is digital, what's to stop the work from continuing to undulate, pulsate, and update, just like the thought that brought you there?
I often think now in short bursts of thought, parsed out 140 characters at a time, or blogged in rough short form. I think aloud and online more, because the call and response is a comfort to me. I'm spoiled now, spoiled in the luxury of knowing there's always a ready response out there, always an inevitable ping back. Even when the ping back is sour or critical, it comforts me. It says "You are not alone."
I don't believe there's such a thing as too much information. I don't believe Google makes us dumber, or that prolonged Internet fasts or a return to faxes are a necessary part of mind health. But data without the ability to divine is useless. I don't trust algorithm like I trust intuition: the art of dowsing through data. Once, wisdom was measured by memory, by the capacity to store and process and retrieve on demand. But we have tools for that now. We made machines that became shared extensions of mind. How will we define wisdom now? I don't know, but I can ask.