KARL Marx once wrote about the prospect of humankind’s enslavement by machines. I know because I heard someone talk about it on the radio last week. I also know we’ve just marked the 200th anniversary of the philosopher’s birth with a slew of books and the odd statue.

I’ll return to Marx in a minute. But more pressing right now is the list of things I don’t know. Like when Avengers: Infinity War is showing at my local multiplex. Like where I’ve seen the actress who played Marion in the BBC’s The Woman In White before. Like who invented that stupid new dance The Floss. Like any one of a hundred other things I’d normally turn to my smartphone to find out.

And why don’t I know them? Because this particular human has thrown off the shackles of enslavement by machines, and one machine in particular: the search engine. Yes, I’m in the throes of a week without Google – and it has certainly been a challenge.

As for the reasons, well strictly speaking they’ve nothing to do with Marx. It’s simple happenstance that in the week I untether myself from the information teat for the purposes of journalistic enquiry we happen to be commemorating him. But I like the synchronicity of it: we’ve both had to think deeply about the good and bad aspects of technology and about what happens to societies when certain technologies proliferate, and we’ve both done it while sitting in public libraries surrounded by books. Him because that’s where he liked to work and read and meet his friend Friedrich Engels; me because in my Google-less state it’s my best source of information. I’ve gone beyond Marx, too, and also considered what happens to our brains when they’re no longer required to remember anything or know anything besides how to type a question into that familiar white box. The conclusions are a little troubling.

On the face of it, my week without Google isn’t exactly a Herculean task. I can still rely on “old tech” sources of information for a start, such as the one you’re holding in your hands right now. So don’t worry: I was in my seat (and in the right cinema) before the credits rolled on Avengers: Infinity War. Sure I still don’t know who invented The Floss, because neither my Chambers 20th Century Dictionary nor my Children’s Encyclopaedia mention it, and I still don’t know what else that Woman In White actress has been in, because of my self-imposed ban from websites such as IMDB and Wikipedia. But in information terms, these are relatively frivolous needs. In fact they’re not really needs at all, just the sort of brainless “double screening” activity more and more of us undertake at night in between browsing for bargains online, checking Facebook and chatting over the telly.

Even phone boxes count as “old tech” these days and I’ve had a brush with one of these too. Foreswearing Google means I’ve done something I haven’t done for years: left home without my smartphone. Bad move. I now find myself in the centre of Edinburgh having to re-arrange a restaurant booking. Normally I’d Google the place and call directly from the website. Now I either have to find the number of a restaurant from directory enquiries or phone home and change the arrangement. Both involve finding a phone box, not an easy ask. I mean who even uses them? Not me. Not for a long time.

How long becomes clear when I do eventually find one and realise I can’t remember how to use it. That’s my first real shock. Once upon a time – and I use that fairy tale opening advisedly – you’d dial the number then stick in your 10p piece when the other person answered and the beeps sounded. These days you pay upfront, though it takes me a while to figure that out. In goes 20p, up comes a message saying something about insufficient funds. In goes another 20p. Same message. I’m starting to feel like an alien. Eventually I read the instructions and find there’s a minimum fee of 60p. I’m ringing a mobile number so for that I have about 18 seconds of speaking time. It’s enough to pass on a message, but only just.

Back at home, more “old tech”: lots of books, Billy bookcase after Billy bookcase of them. Granted, they don’t exactly amount to the sum of all human knowledge (too many biographies of footballers and rock musicians). But the questions thrown up in those precious two hours of television watching after the kids have gone to bed – examples: “Are the Senate and the House of Representatives the same thing?” and “Where is Iran exactly?” – are both answered. Though not quickly, I admit. And I have to pull the sofa out to find the atlas.

Scanning the IKEA bookshelves for information about Google itself I spot Pattern Recognition, a 2003 novel by acclaimed cyberpunk author and cultural critic William Gibson. As far as I remember it’s in Pattern Recognition that Google is first used as a verb. And here it is on page two, in an admonition from the author to “google” his heroine, Cayce. If you did, Gibson writes, you’d discover that she’s a “coolhunter” who is so “sensitive” to brands that she removes all labels and markings from her Levi’s 501s and even files down the buttons so the name is erased – ironic given that Google now makes its money in large part through brand advertising.

Gibson has said that for all his seer-like capabilities the one thing he didn’t see coming was social media. It’s a moot point whether he saw that connection between search engines and advertising either. One author who did – and whose book, luckily, I also have on my shelves – is Columbia University professor Tim Wu.

The book is called The Attention Merchants. Published in 2016 it’s an eye-opening account of the relentless attempts by technological disruptors to capture our attention and turn our time online into a commodity which can be re-sold to advertisers. With regard to Google, Wu quotes John Battelle, co-founder of tech magazine Wired. “Every day, millions upon millions of people lean forward into their computer screens and pour their wants, fears and intentions into the simple colours and brilliant white background of Google.com,” Battelle wrote in 2005. In tech jargon this is called “intentional traffic”, Wu writes, and it’s a goldmine, “a valuable mental state – open, desirous and impressionable. Thanks to the attention merchant’s proprietary alchemy, advertising would make Google feel ‘free’ to its users – as if it were just doing them a big favour”.

Put in those terms, my week without Google is starting to feel like a political act and making me feel like some kind of digital refusenik. But as with all refuseniks there is a price to pay. If I’m being strict with myself, being without Google means no email either. That is a problem. The morning post is as plentiful as always – one of the upsides of being a home-working journalist – but unless there are post-Christmas Thank You letters to drop into the bright red letter box on the corner there’s little that goes in the opposite direction. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter, and even if I was so inclined the days when I could guarantee a next day delivery and a message back by return post are long gone. Save that sort of thing for period dramas such as The Woman In White, written in the Victorian era when the Royal Mail could justifiably be said to be a communication superhighway to be reckoned with. Sure I can use the telephone if I need to send information, but I don’t have a fax (and do faxes even exist anymore? don't we just scan things now?), so anything text-based will have to go by post. But do I even have any stamps? I doubt it.

I have no access to Google Maps, either. Luckily I have an Edinburgh A-Z and a native’s knowledge of the street layout and the urban topography. But if I was anywhere else but my home town – Glasgow, say – I’d probably have my phone out as I navigated that pesky grid system. And if I was a tourist I’d have no recourse to Trip Advisor, a website offering opinions and advice on where to eat and stay, and what to visit. Instead I’d be at the mercy of the local tourist office and whichever brochures and flyers it stocked. My choice would be limited, in other words.

Of course much that we turn to Google for is not frivolous at all. Finding specialist information on medical conditions and their treatment, for instance (though as any hypochondriac knows, you Google symptoms at your peril). Or how to care for bees, make cheese, cure meats, brew beer. Or even how to counter-sink holes for carriage bolts into oak slats so you can replace the rotten ones on a much-loved cast iron garden bench.

At home we recently undertook that last task. We did it by Googling it and finding a How To video on YouTube which covered exactly that process. This helped immensely and also confirmed my belief that there’s a YouTube How To tutorial for every activity under the sun, including (surely) how to shoot a YouTube How To tutorial. The point is that without that resource, the job would have required experience and knowledge we don’t have and which we might have ended up having to pay for.

But despite that I can’t help thinking many of the facts I turn to Google for are ones I don’t really need to know and shouldn’t be spending valuable time finding out. Nor, conversely, can I escape the nagging suspicion that the facts I really should know I have let slip, safe in the belief that it’s all there in cyberspace if I want it. Even more worrying, what’s all that doing to my cognitive functions? To my ability to concentrate, think, remember, imagine? Nothing good, according to author Nicholas Carr, whose 2011 book The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing Our Brains became a New York Times bestseller and was one of the three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction.

Essentially, Carr argues that being bombarded with information and constantly distracting ourselves by Googling this that and the next thing impairs our ability to concentrate and think deeply. Since the proliferation of social media and the smartphone, the situation has become even more severe, he thinks. Speaking in 2016, he said: “To me, all the things I worried about have become much worse now that we carry around this permanently connected device that we’re constantly pawing at … It doesn't take long for someone to get used to glancing at their smartphone 200 times a day. We’re creatures of habit mentally and physically. When you develop that habit of distraction, it becomes harder and harder to back away and engage our minds in deeper modes of thinking.”

He also pointed up the effect on memory and a recent scientific study which showed that when people know they can access information online, they’re less likely to form a memory of it. Moreover, constant distractions mean that the process of memorising, whereby information is moved into what’s called “the working memory” before being stored in the deep memory, becomes disrupted. A separate study of American 18-34-year-olds found them much more forgetful than the over-55s, those whose day-to-day lives revolve less around glancing at a smartphone screen every few minutes. It’s a terrifying thought that a generation may be growing up with less mental acuity than its predecessors, even while it appears to be more technologically savvy. And what will that mean for their children and their children’s children?

I suppose the question is: would a lifetime without Google be a better idea than a week without it? I think I know the answer. You probably do, too. But you might want to Google it, just to be sure.