With Google's reign, there is no longer any need to memorize anything aside from academic and professional uses, and our brains have been proven to know that too.
Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments, in which they found that people are less likely to remember information when they are aware of its availability on online search engines. In a way, Google and the Internet use in general have offloaded memory demands from our brain onto the machines.
Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found, said Sparrow.
Don't worry, it doesn't mean that we are becoming dumb because of Google. Sparrow assures that we are still fully capable of remembering things that matter, even those things that are not easily found online. The study simply points to the choice made by our brains to be efficient - if there is no need, the energy to memorize information is not wasted.
The study asserts that the use of search engines suggests that human memory is reorganizing where it goes for information, adapting to new computing technologies rather than relying solely on rote memory. We're outsourcing search from our brains to our computers, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
In a paper titled Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, Sparrow introduces a series of four different experiments carried out in the study.
In the first memory experiment, participants typed 40 bits of trivia into a computer. Half of the subjects believed the information would be saved in the computer; the other half believed the items they typed would be erased.
The subjects of the latter half were more likely to remember information they thought they would not be able to find later.
Participants did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statement they had read, the authors wrote.
A second experiment sought to determine whether computer accessibility affected exactly what we remember.
If asked the question whether there are any countries with only one color in their flag, for example, the researchers wrote, do we think about flags - or immediately think to go online to find it out?
As further experiment the participants were asked not only to remember the trivia statement itself, but which of five computer folders it was saved in.
The answer surprised the researchers: People were better able to recall the folder than the information itself.
That kind of blew my mind, Sparrow said in an interview.
Experts call this transactive memory. Essentially, remembering where you can get the information and not the information itself.
Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member, or co-worker, Sparrow said. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.
As human memory adapts to new communications technology, as Sparrow puts it, the way of teaching and training may see some changes too.
Perhaps those who teach in any context, be they college professors, doctors or business leaders, will become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorization, Sparrow said. And perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding.