The only Beach Boy who could surf was Dennis Wilson—and he drowned in 1983. This is the kind of valuable, compelling fact that I used to keep in my brain. How foolish I was, possibly because I’d stuffed my brain with a bunch of facts. But the world has transformed itself into a place that provides alternatives, and I needn’t clutter my thinking apparatus with facts anymore. I now let the internet and six terabytes of data storage in my study remember things for me.
You may doubt that I can function after transferring my organically-housed data to off-site storage. I get by fine, thank you. I have fewer headaches, I don’t tell people they’re wrong anymore, and I never waste time on bar bets or whether $2 is a good tip on a $25 check. By the way, my iPad says that is not a good tip, but I have to pay 99 cents at the App Store to get the full version that will calculate the right tip. In the meantime I just left a $20 bill and stole three forks.
To give you an example of my newly superior functioning, I’ll describe how I don’t need to carry any facts in my head in order to get a good deal on a car. I first go to Google and type in “car,” which produces 4,490,000,000 results. This is far better than my unassisted brain could do in 0.23 seconds. I do realize that I need to narrow the search a bit, and I type “how to buy a car.” That gives me 77,800,000 results in 0.25 seconds. Now I’m making progress. But I can do better. I try “how to buy a used car” (4,460,000), “how to buy a good used car” (391,000), and “how to buy a used car without getting screwed” (24,000). Although I’m excited by this success, I still find the prospect of scanning 24,000 sites a little harrowing, so I trust Google and pick the top one on the list.
I won’t tell you the name of this website in case I ever decide to sell cars. I don’t want you to have these secret inside facts to use against me. I will say that the site hosted 18 advertisements, not including two pop-up ads for discount insurance and payday loans. I scanned through the flashing and wiggling ads and found the pertinent facts on buying a car. The first item was, “Decide what kind of car you want.” That made me pause, because I wasn’t sure how to make that decision. I didn’t have any facts about what I needed in a car. Gas mileage? Trunk space? A great stereo, or maybe seat warmers for a toasty bottom in January? I tried “what kind of car do I need?” in Google, but I just got a bunch of questions asking me what I need in a car, and I’d already established that I didn’t know. Finally I just took the choice at the top of the list, which must always be the best, and selected a convertible. I experienced a moment of hesitation, feeling that I might need more detail than just “convertible,” so I narrowed it down to a blue convertible, seeing as I really like blue a lot.
Now the absence of facts in my brain became a powerful tool for good. The internet provided every fact I might need, such as vehicle history reports, list prices, feature packages, and the evils of extended warranties. This left my mighty, unencumbered frontal lobes free to concentrate on the negotiations and the sale. When the salesman whispered that he could give me the secret sport-rally ultra-burn package without his manager knowing, my brain recognized that it must be a valuable deal since I’d never heard of it. I snatched the offer in order to prevent it from going to that greedy couple from Abilene he told me about, who were coming back for it in the afternoon. The best part of all is that the car is colored “Porpoise Snout Blue.”
I’m lucky to live in today’s world, where my brain’s capabilities can be fully unleashed on society, and you’re lucky too. I’ll meet you for lunch at Starbucks, and we can have a disjointed sharing of vaguely connected sentences while we each search the internet to find out what we’re talking about. I may be late. I’m driving my new convertible, and I have to launch a browser on my phone so I can look up what that triangular red and white street sign means.