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Googling something instead of remembering it


Googling something instead of remembering it

Kelly MacNeil July 15, 2011

A new study conducted at Columbia University recently claimed that Google is reshaping the way that people remember information, so that we remember where facts are rather than what they are. To come to the conclusion, Dr. Betsy Sparrow and colleagues conducted four separate memory experiments to observe the internet's effects on the brain. 

One of the experiments split participants into two groups, with one half believing that information searched would be erased and the other knowing that it would be saved to the computer. The facts in question were generally trivia-based, and researchers discovered that those who believed they would be able to locate the answers again were much less likely to commit the fact to memory.

"Participants did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statement they had read," the authors write, according to The New York Times.

Some believe that the study shows "we are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found."

Wired magazine's Jonah Lehrer doesn't think that this restructuring is necessarily a bad thing. He writes that it may be a good instinct to use Google to verify the things we want to know rather than our brains, which are often fallible when it comes to recall abilities.

He reasons that it doesn't show that technology is ruining the brain. Rather, we're "outsourcing a skill that we're not very good at."

There's also the view that we are typically relegating secondary information to the internet, while storing the facts that are actually important – and useful – to us in our daily lives.