Saturday, May 9, 2009

The InterBrain

I think we, or at least I, take for granted sometimes just what a staggeringly powerful and unprecedented resource humanity has in the internet. In many ways it functions as a fully accessible, completely searchable (thank you Google) repository of human knowledge. The important stuff and the completely irrelevant.

It's a trivial little search I do pretty frequently that got me thinking about this. Often I hear a song on the radio, and either because the DJ doesn't announce them or I have to leave the car before he or she does, I can't find out the song and artist names. So now, as a matter of habit, I commit a short but unique cluster of lyrics to memory. Later I look up that phrase with the word "lyrics" tagged on to the end, and find the song and artist nearly every time.

It's easy to take that for granted, but imagine trying to get that simple bit of information even 20 years ago. You'd probably have had to call the radio station. If they answered and were willing, you'd have to hope someone there could identify the song based on the lyrics you remember. Barring that they'd have to be willing to go over the play logs for the day and tell you the songs that aired around the time you were listening. That might work once or twice, but the stations management would likely tire of constant calls. In fact, frequent calls of this nature from multiple people would likely cause them to institute restrictive policies. So then you'd have to remember to ask friends or a clerk at a record store until you got an answer or forget the song entirely. Not very efficient.

With the internet, the answer comes quickly and easily, with links to band information, gig schedules, YouTube videos for the song in question, and chances to instantly download it onto your iPod.

Trivial in a sense, but in the grand scheme, enormous.

Now imagine what it would have taken 20 years ago to get a solid explanation for say the role of enzymes in the breakdown of industrial pollutants. Or the schedules for most of the known comets. Or train schedules in Glasgow. If you could find answers at all, the process would be laborious and far from instantaneous. Plus you'd have to leave your house!

The internet is just staggering.

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