A new study has shown that our mental abilities may be deteriorating thanks to the easy access we have to online search engines. Bits of knowledge that we intuitively know will be available via Google or Wikipedia (pornography and lists of Rainbow Brite episodes, respectively) don't get remembered, and instead essentially get replaced with mental links to those resources. This leaves extra room for the part of our brains that enjoys applying captions to pictures of cats.
No one really knows yet how to interpret this. Is this a sensible response to the creation of a massive external repository of information, proof that we're becoming smarter thanks to the Internet? Or, on the other hand, r we dummer? And would any of this change if the Internet was shut off? How fast would things go all Lord of the Flies if that happened? Would we even be capable of making Lord of the Flies references without the ability to Google what that was?
Was the conch important? I definitely remember thinking that the conch was important. They sat on it, right?
I've basically grown up on the Internet, and the possibility that this experience has damaged my brain frankly rings true. I will Google everything, and when I'm not doing that, it's because I've just wikied something. I once logged on to TVtropes and didn't come out for eight days. If you were to ask me what I did yesterday, I could only blink and reply, "Internet. Regret."
Obviously, anecdotal evidence is nothing to base a scientific study on, but it is a hell of a way to frame a column. So to find out more about the subject, and to get some external reassurance that my own mental faculties were "basically still there," I enlisted the help of Professor Stephen Hodges at the University of Canada.
Foreground: The School of Particle and Beaver Physics.
Using the smallest words he could, Dr. Hodges explained that I was probably fine and should calm down. But he was willing to set up a series of experiments to mirror those published in the earlier study, to test my ability to recall things with and without the assistance of the Internet. After surrendering my smartphone to him, he showed me to a simple white room with a table, two chairs and a computer.
Cracked: OK, Dr. Hodges. So how's this going to work?
Dr. Hodges: Well first we're going to do a bit of a baseline test of your general knowledge and ability to use the Internet. When filling in this questionnaire, you can use this computer if you feel it necessary.
C: Got it. Let's do this the only way I know how.
C: Big Willie Style of course.
For the interest of our readers, the results of this test are transcribed below.
What is the capital of Canada?
What's the address of Mr. Chow's Lucky Poutine?
2423 Hexagon 43.
What was the name of the Transformer who was a nerd?
What is the Canadian National Anthem?
Hail Hail Canada, Ruiner of Lesser Nations (Ooh, Baby)
What is your shoe size?
What is your birthdate?
98.65, Decimal Month 8, 1979
H: OK. You got every question correct.
C: I noticed that some were less general answer questions and were more just personal knowledge.
H: That's right. A part of the experiment is keeping track of which questions you can answer from memory, and which ones you needed Internet assistance with. There were also some questions which were designed so that they couldn't be looked up online.
C: There are actually a couple guys out there who run a blog about my feet.
H: I see.
C: No, you really shouldn't.
"Jesus Christ, that feels good."
H: So ... What we're going to do now is disconnect the Internet, and repeat using a similar questionnaire. This way we'll see how you react and perform without the Internet to serve as a crutch. -Dr. Hodges extracts a pair of scissors from his lab coat and severs the Ethernet cable coming out the back of the computer-
C: Wow. Was that really necessary?
H: It's a bit dramatic, but it serves a purpose. Seeing that cable in two really imprints an "offline" mentality on subjects.
C: I totally get that. I'm already feeling a little confused and disoriented. I feel a little vulnerable actually.
C: This is going to sound weird, but could I make a request?
H: What's that?
C: Please don't touch any of my personal areas.
H: -checks notes- All right.
C: Thank you. I can't even remember if we talked about that before or not.
H: We didn't.
C: I'll have to take your word for it.
H: Right. If you'll excuse me for a second, I'll prepare the next phase of the experiment. -exits room-
C: Doo-de-doo-de-doo-de-do. Dah dah. ........... What did we dooo baby .... without us? Sha-la-la-laaaah!
H: -enters rooms- All right, here's the next section of the test.
C: Who are you?
H: I'm sorry? It's me. Stephen. Dr. Stephen Hodges.
C: Yeah, I'm pretty sure I've never met you.
H: You came in here half an hour ago, swearing and crying, and begged me to test your memory.
C: That does sound like me. And you said I was handsome and magnetic?
H: I didn't say that, no.
C: Definitely me then. That's weird. I'm remembering, like, nothing right now.
H: Your memory appears to have a particularly strong dependency on Internet connectivity.
C: I don't know what any of those words meant. Say, can I borrow your pen for a second?
H: Sure. -Lends me his pen, busies himself with his notes-
C: -Turning away from him, I use his felt pen to carefully write DR. HODGES, BEARD, SCIENCE? on my forearm-
H: What are you doing?
C: Nothing. -I then write down KIND OF PUSHY and turn back, concealing my arm from him. Ready to go.
H: Right. OK, this portion is basically the same as the last test you wrote ...
C: The what?
H: Never mind. This test that you're just starting for the first time right now is testing your ability to remember things without access to the Internet.
What animal is the national symbol of Canada?
What is the address of your local Fun and Socialism Center?
Uh ... I know this. I'm required to go there all the time. By the Canadian Taco Depot?
What was the name of the sexy-lady Transformer?
I definitely know this. This really confused me for a long time, and made puberty way more complicated than it needed to be. She-bot?
How many tonnes of uranium does Canada mine then bury each year to keep its workers busy and happy?
All of them.
What is your PIN code?
I know this. Wait. This feels like a scam? I need Snopes.com really bad. Dammit. OK, fine. 1234
What's your favorite type of sandwich?
Uranium? No. I just read that word. Idiot. Success?
H: Interesting. You only got the animal one right.
C: Who are y ... wait. -reads forearm- Dr. Hodges.
H: That's right! OK. The final phase of the test will involve you trying to memorize new facts. I'll just be back in a second with the equipment. -leaves room-
C: No problem. -While he's gone, I re-read the previous test.- Did he just steal my PIN number? -I carefully write DR. HODGES STOLE YOUR PIN NUMBER on my arm -- then spend the next few minutes staring at it and being furious-
H: All right, Chris. The next phase of the test requires you to memorize this list of numbers and figures.
C: And you are ... -reads forearm- Dr. Hodges?
H: Correct again.
C: -angry- You are kind of bushy.
H: What have you got on your arm there?
C: Not angry musings, I'll tell you that much.
H: Let me see that.
H: Come here. -He twists my arm around, reading the notes scribbled on it-
C: Can you tell if that says bushy or pushy? It's gotten kind of smeared and both of them fit.
H: You can't write notes to yourself. That completely invalidates the test. Also, holy shit do you sweat a lot. How can one man be so sweaty?
C: I'm sure I'd remember if I had the Internet. -I check my arm- Because you're kind of bushy? Is that a thing that turns me on? It must be; look at me. I'm glowing. -wipes forehead with forearm.
H: OK, this is over.
C: -scribbles more notes on arm-
H: What did you write there?
H: Show me! -We wrestle for a moment. Although I know a great deal about fighting from things I've read on webpages, I can remember none of this at the critical time and am quickly overpowered-
H: Why did you just write DO NOT RUN THROUGH DR. HODGES WITH A SPEAR MADE OF A TABLE LEG?
C: It seems like good advice. I thought you'd approve.
H: It's the kind of thing which usually doesn't need to be specified. And why did you write DO NOT in small, faint letters, on the sweatiest part of your arm?
C: Because I hate you.
H: Get out of here.
C: I'm not done remembering yet. -I wipe my arm on my head, read it, wipe again more vigorously, check again- Close enough. -I flip the table over, and begin wrestling with the leg.-
But before I could free and then embed the table leg in Dr. Hodges abdomen, he returned my smartphone to me, causing both my memory to return and a very small orgasm. After righting the table, apologizing profusely and giving him my phone number, I returned back to the Cracked offices, ready to write this column. Unfortunately I had forgotten everything that happened there, and was forced to fabricate this entire story based on scraps of movies I'd seen, as is my manner.
If there's any lessons to be learned here, I guess it's that the Internet is an umbilical cord, and a leash, and a nourishing teet, and a poor martial arts instructor, and a thousand things beside that. But has it damaged our brains? It's hard to say. I may have memory problems because of the Internet, or because of genetics, or because of that refrigerator I hid in for six days as a child. Ultimately, if we want to know the real answer, there's only one place we can check ...