Search engines like Google and social networks that facilitate the access to information without humans having to remember details about such information, are causing people to forget.
by Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
January 24, 2012
I am not going to be a hypocrite, Google is a great search tool. But in order for you to understand what Google does to most people who use it the wrong way, please try to picture it as follows: Google is to internet users what the welfare state is to free individuals. The fact people can have basically any information anytime, anywhere, with an internet connection handy, has turned users into dependent slaves, and their brains into a neurological jelly mass.
In a simple sentence, Google is turning into a collective brain, a place where anyone can go to retrieve information whenever anyone and everyone needs it. In a sense, people’s brains are becoming empty receiving information docks, ever more incapacitated to remember facts and data. Human brains are slowly but surely learning how to remember where information is, but not what information is it that they wants.
After conducting a study on the way search engines -mostly Google- affects the human brain called Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, researchers at three major universities including Harvard, Wisconsin-Madison and Columbia, confirmed that the human brain is becoming… well… less human. In order to test their theory, they recruited subjects and gave them three tests. In the first test, they tested whether people recognized computer terms more quickly than other words. In the second test, they looked into whether people could remember at least 40 pieces of information that they would usually look up. And third, they tested people to see how well they could remember where they got information and whether they remembered the source of the data or the actual information.
As it happens with many other aspects of human life, whenever people find a comfortable, easier way to get a solution to their problems, they go with the easy way instead of with the other options. In the case of the use of the human brain, people simply decide -unconsciously or otherwise- to not remember a determined piece of information because they know it is at their fingertips with Google’s help. The study concluded that when people know they will not need such information in the immediate future, they are less capable of remembering it.
Betsy Sparrow, the leader of the study and an assistant professor at the department of psychology at Columbia University, emphasized two different points which are included in the published paper. The fact people have Internet available 24/7 makes it more likely for people to forget they got information and that arrival of the Internet has made it way too easy to access such information. ‘No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can ‘Google’ the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue, ” reads the paper.
The latest information revealed by the study also confirms that when challenged with questions they cannot answer immediately, their brains automatically try to remember where that information might be. ‘The Internet is where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.’ Remember The fiction-based movie The Matrix? But for Ms. Sparrow, it is not so relevant how negative Google or other Internet tools might be. She prefers that people and other scientists focus their studies on the positive things that the Internet and technology of the kind of Google provide their users. During an interview on the Columbia University page the head researcher said that more than a loss of memory, the human brain is actually “adapting” to the way they get data.
According to Columbia University, the study was conducted in four different parts and was financed by the National Institutes of Health. See Ms. Sparrow’s interview regarding the study by clicking here.