Is Google Search Destroying Your Memory?

BlogHer Original Post

Science Magazine published an article this week titled Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Translated into nonscientific terms, the consequences seem to be that we are forgetting everything we once remembered.

tangled mess
Image: Tangled Mess by mlkeewa

The chief author of the study the paper is based on is Betsy Sparrow from Columbia University. The finding is,

When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.

According to the New York Times article, Internet Use Affects Memory, Study Finds, here's how the study was done.

  1. Participants were told to type trivia into a computer
  2. Half were told the trivia would be saved in the computer
  3. Half were told the trivia would not be saved

The results were that people who thought they would not be able to find the information later recalled it better than the participants who thought it would be available in the computer later.

Even more interesting to me, since I seem to have a handle on what the study calls transactive memory, was a part of the study that dealt with where information was stored. Participants were told to remember the trivia and the folder it was stored in. People were better at remembering where the information was stored than at remembering the information. Wow, that is so me. Is it you?

At GeekSugar, in Does Google Cause Internet Brain Burnout?, they take a look at the study. they ask,

Have you had a similar experience? Has Internet use changed the way you process information and remember facts?

GeekSugar points to an example involving musician John Meyer, who says he quit Twitter because he could no longer have a complete thought.

Twitter hasn't affected me that way, but I do often experience this scenario: I read something. A day or two goes by. I discover I need to refer to whatever it was I read. Here's my thinking process: did I read it in a blog, on Twitter, on Facebook (and soon enough, on Google+) or where? I usually remember where I read it and I go looking there until I find it.

I was going to say that I'm frequently on IMDB trying to figure out who a familiar face is. Then I realized that I probably couldn't place the face because it had been surgically altered to just a hint of its former self. Especially among actors and actresses in my age group! But, more to the point – it's knowing where to find an answer when memory doesn't exactly serve.

Is this really new?

Maybe we do turn to Google or IMDB or even Twitter for a quick lookup of something we might have remembered whole before. But is that bad? And is knowing the source of information actually a new thing? Isn't there someone in your life who knows whatever and to whom you always turn when you need a bit of whatever? Don't you remember which book on your bookshelf has in it the exact quote you're seeking?

Let's face it. We have a serious information overload problem in today's world. Isn't knowing how to quickly get to almost any bit of information a good skill to have?

Virginia DeBolt, BlogHer Section Editor for Tech
virginia.debolt@blogher.com
Virginia blogs at Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

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