If you own an iPhone, odds are you’re already well on your way to mastering iOS 7. Apple’s revolutionary new operating system brings users a sleeker, more intuitive experience, with improved capabilities for sharing, multitasking, and personalizing your phone to best suit you. More so than ever, your cell phone is hardwired to be an extension of yourself—and based on our recent Internet activity, we were clamoring for that.
Rumors circulated on Wednesday that mass downloads of Apple’s latest update were slowing Wesleyan’s Wi-Fi network. At NYU, the Internet actually crashed. Across Twitter, iPhone users announced they were skipping out on school and work to make the upgrade as soon as possible, threatening bodily harm to themselves and others when weak connection or other obstacles got in their ways. All of this was for the ability to give more of ourselves over to our phones more easily. In this age of instant access and online identities, when social media reflects life and vice versa, it matters less and less what parts of our lives are rooted in technology and what parts are not; as long as we have cell service and 4G, it’s all equally within our grasp.
Therein lies my philosophical quandary. But first, allow me to introduce myself.
Hi, my name is Josh, and I am a compulsive Googler. It’s a label that can mean many things to many people: answer seeker, time waster, porn aficionado, perhaps a combination of all three. I, myself, am only the former. I swear. No, don’t look at my Internet history; there’s nothing to find there. I’m not hiding anything. I just like to clear it so I can go back and find things more easily. Hey, who said anything about unnatural? I never said it was unnatural. I think it’s very natural, but in moderation. You know what, this is getting awkward. I’m going to start a new paragraph now.
Ever since Apple provided me with unprecedented access to the Web anywhere AT&T felt like having coverage, I’ve been acutely aware that any information is right at my fingertips. When I come across a question I can’t answer off the top of my head, I no longer say, “I don’t know.” That phrase has been rendered obsolete. Instead, the words “Let me check” intuitively flow out of my mouth, and I already have my phone in hand and am halfway through typing out the Google search. What I know and do not know is no longer at issue, only what I can find and what I cannot. The only relevant information is that I can access the answer to just about any question I’m facing.
I’ve reached the point where I’m unsure which portion of my thoughts originated in my own brain and which is linked back to Wikipedia. Of course, no piece of information is truly original, but my Wiki-knowledge carries an overt sensation that it stems from the most malleable but least personal of references. For example, I have never seen or heard Bryan Cranston’s acceptance speech for his third consecutive Emmy for “Breaking Bad,” but I know he told his wife and daughter that he loves them more than baseball. I know Rex Chapman was the first basketball player ever signed by the Charlotte Hornets, though I am not a Hornets fan and cannot recall watching Chapman play in an NBA game. I’ve absorbed more facts about the black and white cookie and its history than I deigned to think existed. These random details live in my head, occupying space alongside family traditions and childhood memories in the grand data bank of things that I know. And yet the line between what is mine and what is Wikipedia’s becomes blurrier by the day. More often than not, I’m simply cognizant of the fact that the information exists and I know where to find it; the fact that I don’t actually know it off the top of my head seems beside the point. I have not updated my brain recently.
At a moment when I was beleaguered by miscommunication and ambiguity, some words escaped me in an unanticipated stream of consciousness. I never thought to say those words, but I was very proud of them. I considered them to be profound, and I hope they might be to other people, too.
“We are a species of mountain-builders,” I sighed that day.
That day was sometime last November, if I remember correctly, but I already know I don’t. I’d forgotten that the whole thing happened. That quote was hidden in a file on my computer that I stumbled upon recently, but as meaningful as they were to me that day, they ring hollow now—not because I dispute the notion, but because I straight up forgot about it. Way back when, I Googled the phrase, only to find no evidence online that anyone had ever put those words in that order before. Perhaps something great will come of those words, or perhaps that one moment of wonder is all that will come of it. Yet I lost that moment once in the shared clutter of my mind and my hard drive. It’s bittersweet, but I have it back now. I thought about Googling it again to double-check, but I’m not going to do that. No matter what, this one is mine, and I mean to keep it.
Cohen is a member of the Class of 2014.