Cognitive Offload

Cognitive Offload

Lately, I have been practicing reducing my reliance on some particular pieces of technology. One such technology is the GPS (app). Over the years, I've noticed that my sense of direction has been getting worse and worse and not only that, but my confidence in myself about directions has also been declining. For example, the gym that I go to is only an 8-minute drive from where I live. And fortunately, I go to the gym 4 days a week so I should have the path pretty well memorized, right? Well, no. Thanks to my frequent and continuous usage of Google Maps, I don't practice memorizing directions anymore cause I just don't need to. The feeling is very akin to when calculators were becoming common in the school - you knew how to calculate 19-4 but just in case you were wrong, you wanted to double-check the answer with a calculator. "Just in case I am wrong" - that tingling feeling is the one I am talking about. That self-doubt that rises the more you use a particular technology as your second brain. You are offloading knowledge to a device and this is what I am calling cognitive offload.  

Ever since I started using GPS less and less, my sense of direction has improved. Not significantly (yet) but I noticed that my mental map of some particular streets is improving. Like, I pickup cues from the surroundings to figure out where the next turn will lead me to. Improved guesstimation, you could say. It's a practice of overcoming one's fear of self-doubt. In the beginning, I would pick short distances to drive to without using my phone. Those were easy and when I got comfortable with them, I started going longer distances. Baby steps. For the so-called "longer" distances, I would have Google Maps pulled up on my phone but not pointing to any particular direction. This was just for in case of emergency. In the US, and the State I am in, taking a wrong exit in the highway can be bit of a headache. And also, time. It depends on how much time I have on my hand to make mistakes.

It's a practice of overcoming one's fear of self-doubt.

Another technology that I have been avoiding for a long time is the usage of to-do lists. Again, very useful utility but it needs moderation. Couple of things that I have noticed when using a to-do app was that I would enter way more items than I could actually complete in a day. Maybe it's just how my brain works in particular but seeing 6 items in the list made it sound simpler than it actually was. But once I stopped using the app, I recognized my brain's capacity of a to-do list. It wasn't much but it was more realistic and doable than what I was entering in the app. Also, I realized that since entering items in the checklist was an easy task, I would enter too many items and actually feel overwhelmed looking at the list and fail to complete the whole checklist. But now that I rely on my own and without an app, I usually chalk off 2-3 items to do and then focus on completing them all the way through. Then if I have more time in hand, I think about what I can do next and add 2-3 more items to do. Divide and conquer; rinse repeat.

The third piece of technology that I am trying to reduce is, ironically, the keyboard. Maybe I shouldn't say reducing but I have been doing more writing with pen as of late. Why? Well, I like writing and I like the act of writing. Maybe it's nostalgic but I like the physical sensation of the pen tip scratching against the paper. Also, physical writing is just ubiquitous. Heck, you don't necessarily need a pen or pencil. You could just write stuff out in the sand with a stick. Or with a finger. Or a stone. Anything really. Keyboards are nice but just like any electronic technology, it needs that "magical" pump of electrons to work. And seriously, keyboard typing is actually very limiting. We all are so used to the QWERTY layout that typing would be almost impossible if a new layout was given to us (or if someone swapped the "N" and "M" keycaps. Please don't do this).

Thing is, I feel like we are going about it the wrong way with technology. Instead of using a separate device for our extended memory, maybe we could devise a technology that would increase our brain's capacity instead. Maybe the device will foster the generation of new memory cells/neurons. In fact, gym equipments are a good example of technology that improve our lives without the need for us to rely on them all the time. If apps and devices could do the same for our brain, then that technology would be awesome. And I am not talking about Elon Musk's Neuralink tech because eventually, we are still offloading the memory and cognitive skills to a non-living device.
Maybe somebody could make the memory machine from Dexter's Laboratories a reality (and without the side effect) - Omelette du fromage anyone?