I have outsourced a good chunk of my brain to the internet. As a kid, I was an expert navigator: I had an orienteering merit badge on the sleeve of my Boy Scouts shirt and could find my way across misty moorland using only a map and compass. But those wayfinding skills started to wither as soon as Google Maps came into my life. I now struggle to remember even simple directions from A to B because, well, I don’t need to—the helpful Google woman who lives in my phone simply tells me when I need to bear left or right, or stop. Other areas of my brain have atrophied as the digital age h as advanced. The part that once held the phone numbers and addresses of dozens of friends and family members has surrendered that task to my iPhone’s contact list. The part that stored random facts has shrunk through lack of exercise: Rather than expend the mental effort needed to recall the author of The Third Policeman (Flann O’Brien!) or the capital of Madagascar (Antananarivo!), I can just ask Siri.
This dependence on the internet isn’t a problem until it suddenly stops working, as millions of people discovered this week during the global WannaCry malware attack. (See Technology.) Using a cyberweapon stolen from the National Security Agency, hackers paralyzed businesses, hospitals, and governments in some 150 countries. The scale of these attacks will likely only increase in coming years, taking down services, sites, and apps that we rely on every day. If our ever more connected civilization is to survive such digital assaults, we’re going to need to relearn what it’s like to live in an offline world. We could start by practicing the simple stuff—driving to a new destination without GPS or hailing a taxi on the street rather than summoning an Uber. Now if only some bright spark in Silicon Valley would create an app that could teach us how to do that again. ■