Is our memory atrophying or are we just using the storage in our brains less aggressively? Either way, it is associated with the widespread accessibility and use of the Internet for information retrieval. Researchers from Harvard, Columbia, and University of Wisconsin discovered that our need to remember information is changing with the increased use of information aids such as the Internet. Their results were published in Science journal as “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips”.
Betty Sparrow, the lead researcher from Columbia, explained their motivation for the study, “People are anxious about technology’s affects on our cognition, since we look everything up on the Internet and no longer worry about retaining any of it.”
28 students were exposed to trivia similar to “Greenland is the largest island by area worldwide.” Some were informed that the information was saved on a computer, while the others were told it was not. The group that believed the information would not be retrievable remembered more than the students who believed it would. Their conclusion was that the presence of information on the Internet dumbs us all down in our memory faculty.
These experiments do not reveal what kind of information the students were exposed to nor do they indicate whether the same results would be likely had the students been given information personally relevant to their lives and success. It is more likely that both groups would have remembered the information regardless of whether or not it was being saved on a computer. What the researchers missed was that the Internet has allowed us to ignore personally irrelevant information and only focus on what is important to us as individuals.
In a second experiment 32 people were tested to see whether they tended toward memorizing information or the folder location in which it was stored-after being shown information and the locations where they were tested. In general, the participants remembered the folder locations better than the actual information.
None of the results from this study should shock anyone. Memory substitutes have been around far longer than the Internet. Consider the basic piece of scratch paper. You write a small note to yourself and then you don’t have to think about it. You just remember you have a piece of paper in your pocket that is important. This is parallel to remembering the folder rather than the actual information. Or consider the string around the finger, though I never saw how that could work, since the string had nothing written on it.
Transactive Memory is the term for this practice and this is also depending on someone else to remember someone for us. Just consider birthdays and anniversaries.
Sparrow has targeted her next study at the question of what kind of information we deem significant enough to memorize, now that we have computers remembering everything we did on our own before. She speculates that we are freed to pursue the larger meanings of the information. However, we have yet to see this golden era because we are still far too busy dealing with search engine clutter, ever changing interfaces and re-learning 100 times over how to make an effective search under the current protocols.
Source: Info World News