At breakfast, sipping coffee, I said to my spouse, \”Did you hear that thing on NPR about cyborgs?\”
\”What about them?\” he asked, measuring honey into green tea.
If this had been the 1980s, I would have rummaged in my short-term memory and retrieved whatever shreds of the story I had retained. Then, flexing the muscles of my frontal lobes, I would have turned those concepts into coherent speech and voiced the results, thus giving myself a tiny intellectual workout before even starting my day.
\”Cyborgs,\” I might have said, \”are created by combining organic and inorganic parts in a single being. For instance, I became a partial cyborg when I got an artificial hip ten years ago. Merging the human brain with computers, which is already beginning to happen, will create the ultimate cyborg, with potentially alarming results.\”
But, this being 2017, I just said, \”I\’ll send you a link.\”
(Here, in case you\’re interested, is the link to the cyborg story: http://www.npr.org/2017/02/21/516484639/are-cyborgs-in-our-future-homo-deus-author-thinks-so)
I\’m suspicious of all this linking. Of course, the advent of hypertext has expanded our access to knowledge in ways undreamed-of in the era of shoulder pads. One click and I can read about Hildegard of Bingen\’s migraine-induced mystical visions, or find out how to make yogurt in a crock-pot. How can we not love this?
But this ease of access risks turning us into spectators of knowledge, passive enjoyers of an endless cornucopia of facts. And it\’s changing the way we interact with each other, as we increasingly express ourselves by posting links to what third parties have said or written rather going through the admittedly taxing process of putting things into our own words.
Consider Facebook. If you\’re like me, most of the posts on your news feed consist not of your friends\’ own ideas and opinions, but of links to videos and articles made by unknown others. I often click on these links, and laugh and cry along with the everyone else, but, unless we increasingly are what we link, they strike me only as indirect communications, at best, from my Facebook friends.
True, even before the hypertext era, few people managed to come up with really original ideas. Most of us just rehashed stuff we\’d read, or heard others say. But even at its worst, rehashing is more mentally demanding than clicking.
Of course I know that fighting links is a losing battle. We Googlers and linkers are already cyborgs, letting the machine articulate and express many of our thoughts and feelings for us. But for those who would like to cling to the old ways of being human for a few more years, the strategy is clear: think, write, paint, sculpt, and compose more…and link less.