When asked “what is the age of the oldest human being alive?” What do you think of? According to new research, you will probably think first of where you can find the answer on the Internet, instead of thinking about old people. Is Google eroding our memory?
With our smartphone, tablet or laptop we have immediate access to information we need. A group of researchers of the Columbia University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard University investigated how this constant use of search engines has changed the way we use our memory. They tested if, once information has been accessed, our internal encoding is increased for where we can find the information rather than for the information itself. The results of four studies suggest that we forget things when we are confident we can find it online and are better able to remember where to find something on the Internet then we are at remembering the information itself. According to researcher Betsy Sparrow, the Internet has become a primary form of what psychologists call transactive memory—recollections that are external to us but that we know when and how to access.
The authors conclude in the paper: “It may be no more than nostalgia at this point, to wish we were less dependent on our gadgets. We have become dependent on them to the same degree we are dependent on all the knowledge we gain from our friends and co-workers—and lose if they are out of touch. The experience of losing our Internet connection becomes more and more like losing a friend. We must remain plugged in to know what Google knows.”
Source: Farnam Street Blog, Digital trends, Columbia University
Photo: BECK DIEFENBACH / REUTERS via Techland
Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, & Daniel M. Wegner (2011).
Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertip. Science Magazine : 10.1126/science.1207745