Google Has Become Our Memory

July 31, 2012

It seems we have modified ourselves to rely on our hard drives and the Internet more than on our own memories; woe betide us if the zombie apocalypse wipes out power! ReadWriteWeb informs us, “Google Search Shapes Memory, New Research Shows.” The article by Dave Copeland reports on research from Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University, Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, and Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard University. The write up explains:

“The researchers set out to determine what impact, if any, access to information via Internet search engines has on memory. Their conclusion: When posed a question, people are primed to think of computers, and when they expect to have access to future information, they have lower rates of recall about the actual information and enhanced recall of where they can find the information. For example, you’re not likely to remember the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon chain of associations that leads from the actor to Marlon Brando, but you will remember that you can easily figure it out by going to IMDB.”

This pattern is almost the opposite of the technique we have used for generations: the art of rote memorization which filled our heads with facts we might or might not need some day. Now the Internet serves that storage function. On the surface that doesn’t seem so bad; the Web or even a single computer can hold a lot more information that a human brain. Technology has us covered, right?

Well, yes, as long as everything goes according to plan. But what if the your connection goes down, or the power is out and your device(s)out of juice? From getting the boss information she needs Right Now, to remembering how to perform certain tasks in case of emergency, there’s still call for a well-trained human memory. Those of us who were educated before the computer age may have an advantage, if we can summon that training from the crevices of our minds. What about the younger generations, though, who have grown up with the world at their fingertips?

Cynthia Murrell, July 31, 2012

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