I keep my brain in my pocket

by Joel on May 10, 2010

The brain in my pocket

The brain in my pocket

It has been about 18 months since I got my first-generation Android phone, the G1 from T-Mobile. Like any 18-month-old gadget, it is definitely showing its age and I will likely be replacing it with another Android phone once my two year contract is up.

It’s not hyperbole when I say that owning a so-called smartphone has changed my life, or at least how I live my life. As a telecommuter, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer. Push email, via both gmail and MS Exchange, has allowed me to leave the computer after hours and still be accessible via email. This, paired with Google Voice (formerly Grand Central), makes me accessible to the office whether I’m sitting in front of the computer or not. I’ve heard smartphones described as digital “leashes” but this leash is much longer than the cable between the keyboard and computer.

While I primarily got my G1 so I could send and receive email, it’s the constant access to the Internet that has made this device an almost permanent appendage to my otherwise low-tech body. The ability to look up anything at any time has make my phone function as a second brain for me. It’s rare for me to watch a movie anymore without accessing the Internet Movie Database (which desperately needs an app or mobile site) to see why an actor looks so familiar. If I can’t figure out what a particular lyric is in the song that’s stuck in my head, I can Google it from my Android brain.

Life Before Google

It’s not just me. My sister-in-law recently got an iPhone and she remarked to me that what she likes best about the device is the ability to look up information from anywhere. Clive Thompson calls this the “Cyborg Advantage.” Machines and humans working together can achieve more than either can alone.

The most brilliant entities on the planet, in other words (at least when it comes to chess), are neither high-end machines nor high-end humans. They’re average-brained people who are really good at blending their smarts with machine smarts.

The thing is, this sounds a lot like our lives. We now engage in cyborgian activity all day long. We use Google to find information, rely on Facebook or Twitter to tell us about people we’re interested in, and harness recommendation tools to suggest news stories and cultural events.

The ironic thing is that being literally attached at the hip to my Android device (the name makes sense now, doesn’t it?) allows me to go outside, to enjoy time away from the computer and online world without being completely cut off from the technology that allows me to make a living. I am still limited by the reach of my provider’s signal but that limitation is lessening  every day.

I still crave  a few hours away from all technology every now and then but being able to stretch my legs without worrying about missing an important email is worth the small, always on, always connected bulge in my pocket.

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