Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I've outsourced my brain to the cloud

Who needs a brain to remember things these days? Thanks to the Internet, I don’t have to know as much as I did. I’m not sure when I last picked up a dictionary or encyclopedia. Yet I’m working more productively than ever before. In the always-on world, everything needed is constantly available.

It never used to be like this. Finding the right answers took too much time. Handling reference books, newspapers, magazines or maps was often a chore. Telephoning people and asking them to post information was even slower than it sounds. Now, that’s all changed thanks to online resources like Wikipedia.

From a business point of view, I’ve never felt more connected with customers, colleagues or suppliers. Thanks to salesforce.com, customer relationship management is firmly in the cloud. LinkedIn keeps me in touch with my peers and others. Twitter allows me to update the world on news and follow other people or news with ease. And keeping track of competitors is simple too!  I remember when I used to have to pretend to be a customer to call and ask for pricing, now it is all pretty-much transparent

The Internet also helps my personal life. From timetables and tickets to theatre and sporting events, it provides real choice. Who doesn’t prefer the convenience of Internet purchases over busy shopping centres, glossy brochures, call centres or music-on-hold?

Like millions of other people, I rely on the internet - the cloud - more than ever before. But the key to outsourcing my brain to the cloud is the sheer availability and performance of the Internet from smartphone to desktop. That means having optimum high-speed access to information without tripping over malicious websites. We expect fast results from our questions and high-performance downloads of ever-richer data (3D HDTV over the Internet anyone - it will come and we'll expect it too).

But getting the most out of this resource does require a reasonable idea of what you’re looking for. Even so, I find that when I’m online I don’t need to remember as much as before. Searching interactively is better than thumbing through paper indices or trying to remember where you saw a particular fact.

When the Internet is not there, we definitely feel its loss. I tried living without the web for a week last year for a series of articles in the Financial Times www.ft.com - an experiment I’m not keen to repeat. Not only can’t we communicate but the information we need is inaccessible too. For example, if you rely on your smartphone for driving routes then you may regret one day not keeping a road atlas in the car. Our reliance on technology can - just occasionally when it fails - be a bad thing.

Some believe that the Internet’s avalanche of information might actually be making us less intelligent. By being bombarded with facts are we losing our ability to concentrate and learn? The sheer availability of information can mean we hop from piece to piece and don't focus or concentrate when we should, but we can always turn off th web, email and phones - when we want to.  Of course, there are distractions which affect our productivity. That’s why companies ban some websites in the workplace.

I don’t agree that the Internet adversely affects my concentration. I see it as a business tool, a door-opener and a 21st century aide-mémoire. Used wisely, the Internet works with your mind and releases precious time to focus on your job. There’s no better 24x7 resource for finding out information quickly, wherever you might be. While the cloud doesn’t replace my thinking, it’s gone a very long way to helping it out. 

I've outsourced much of my brain to the cloud, have you?

1 comment:

  1. Completely agree Nigel - the Internet is an invaluable extension of my mind, and between various desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets, my life spans a number of devices, and it's only thanks to the Internet that this isn't a synching ship ;)

    Reliance and addiction are a valid concern. I do worry that my response to any one of these devices making any kind of alert is almost Pavlovian - which can be distracting, not to mention anti-social - but I think we just need to train ourselves to only respond when it's appropriate.

    But if asked to choose between the convenience that ubiquitous connectivity affords me and the distracting influence it can be, I would say 'hook me up' every time.

    Definitely going to be using the phrase 'outsourcing my brain to the cloud' - with full attribution ofc ;)

    Ian Williams