two men playing chess
PHOTO: Vlad Sargu

Which is more efficient at searching: the human brain or Google? The average Google search takes about .2 seconds to process, consuming about .3 watts per search. The human brain consumes about 20 watts of energy every hour, or .005 watts per second. For a brain to do a “search” lasting .2 seconds would require .001 watts of energy. Thus, our brains can be up to 300 times more energy efficient than Google is. Which is not surprising, considering that our brains have evolved over millions of years.

How many times do you repeatedly search for the same thing? I know it happens to me a lot. I either can’t remember, don’t trust my memory, didn’t bother to write the answer down, or am simply a creature of habit that “instinctively” turns to Google instead of my brain when I need to know something.

“Nowadays, if you don’t know something, all you have to do is type a quick query into a search engine,” Marianne Stenger writes. “But although this is certainly useful, researchers have also found that the more we use the internet to support and extend our memory, the more reliant we become on it and the less likely we are to form a memory of it.”

There’s an old saying, “Use it or lose it.” If you talk to older people who are still healthy, many of them will tell you that the best way to stay healthy as you grow older is to stay active, both mentally and physically.

Slowly but surely, technology is infantilizing us. We lose our natural skills and abilities and replace them with search engines, machines and gadgets. Some machines add tremendous value and enrich life. Growing up on a small farm, I got a taste of what life is like without tractors and other machinery. Working on a farm just with horses and hand instruments really beats up the body. Think of the drudgery people faced before the washing machine. Quite clearly, technology can help us live better, healthier lives.

From a human perspective, there is a point beyond which technology shows increasingly limited returns. Right now, technology is literally destroying life on this planet. Of all the CO2 we have caused as a species, we have caused 50% of it in the last 25 years. As the world has become more high tech, so too have we become super-high polluters. Technology is a massive accelerant of global warming.

Are we damning our children’s future so that we can have 5G and the latest iPhone? Are we are degrading our memory — our children aren’t even learning how to remember — and becoming lazy and obese, so that we can become slaves to Alexa? Is that it?

If there’s an awakening with this pandemic, let’s hope that it awakens us to two ideas. Firstly, we’re not special. We’re part of this earth. We’re not superior to anything. Our actions are negatively affecting conditions for life on this planet. All life is in this together.

Secondly, we are human, physical. We are not digital. We have evolved for millions of years as physical beings and the defining characteristic of our species has been collaboration.

Every hour we live requires energy. If we don’t use that energy productively then much of it gets stored as fat. The obesity epidemic is just one more sign that humans are consuming more than we’re using.

Remember. Burn your own energy.