The more we depend on Google for information recall, the more we will do so in the future. Is Google making us stupid? The answer may lie in Plato's writings.
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates tells the story of the ancient Egyptian god Theuth, who invented the arts of
mathematics, astronomy, and writing. Theuth went to the Egyptian king, Thamus, to show him his inventions and explain why they were useful. He was particularly proud of writing: “This invention, O king, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But the king thought the opposite. Writing, he argued, would “produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory … Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which
are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding.” And this will, he fears, result on those who rely on writing never being “wise”.
For “writing” read “Google” and you have much of the burden of current worries about how use of the internet may be degrading our minds. Writing itself is just as much an external prosthetic technology (“characters which are no part of themselves,” as the Egyptian king complains) as the internet is. Writing is also a tool of extended cognition. The difference is that we have had thousands of years to get used to it. The truth about the question of whether our reliance on modern electronic prostheses is better or worse for us is that it’s simply too early to tell.