Is it not smart to use the tools at your fingertips to get the answer you need rather than attempting to memorize all the knowledge you'll likely need?
Here's one of the many reasons I hate the fuck out of The New Yorker. The key subject being discussed, the crux of the debate, is buried in this cast-off little sentence near the end:
Our limited working memory means we’re bad at arithmetic, and so no one does long division anymore.
Okay. First thing, computers don't do arithmetic through memorization. They do arithmetic through what, for a crude shorthand, is basically goal-seeking. If you've ever learned to do square roots by hand, you've basically learned how a comparator works. But more importantly, "working memory" is a much bigger concept than "I can't remember my times tables."
"The Internet" is all about working memory. Clearly, we can look up anything we can imagine. However, if we're actually attempting to answer a question or solve a problem we'd best have a few clues as to where to start. Part of that comes from, say, knowing statistically-significant search terms. Part of it comes from knowing what you're not looking for. All of it comes from the intelligence to filter useless information from useful information. It's the same thing we did as hunter-gatherers, we're just doing it in a different field.
Here's where it matters. I hate to beat a dead horse, but it's topical. In this conversation, one participant is intelligent, thoughtful, introspective and curious. He has theories. The other participant is boorish, rude, dismissive and sardonic. However, he has a working memory full of relevant tidbits.
Both participants have full access to the Internet. Neither participant is being timed. Neither, to our knowledge, is under duress. However, the asshole dominates the conversation from the get-go because the asshole knows where to find his facts. How? Well, extensive reading about the Middle East. An enthusiast's understanding of militaria. And the working memory to craft a counter-narrative at the drop of a hat that, without resorting to gymnastics, holds water in the face of shifting counter-argument.
In a world in which working memory doesn't matter, that argument stays philosophical. In a world in which working memory dominates, that argument quickly becomes quibbling about facts. Whose facts? The facts of the person with the greater working memory. That fight went to my turf on my terms because I could count the ways in which the argument was factually flawed without having to crack open a Google.
Did I use Google? Yer damn skippy. I knew what I was looking for and I could "refresh" my working memory with relevant information. but without the initial imprint, it's easy to come to the conclusion that television has changed warfare. Why?
All the information readily available on the Internet comes from popular media.
I think, in many ways, our "Human augmentation" is used mostly as a way to slough away all of the tasks which we dislike doing so we can focus on the things we either like to do, or need our full mental capacity to do or comprehend.
I think these debates come up because nobody has figured out what we can and cannot safely offload onto our devices without detrimentally impacting our lives. I'm not sure I've made the best choices but I also know I worry about it more than most people.
The Internet is not neutral. It feeds you the information it makes the most money on. I did interviews a couple months back where not one person we asked knew Kim Jong Un yet they all knew Kim Kardashian.