Digital amnesia: Is Google dulling your memory?

First, some background …

The tests I give my students always include some questions that can reasonably be tagged “memorization”.

Some students are repulsed by them and shout the cultural refrain: “Don’t memorize anything that you can look up.”

The apparent thinking: You’ve only got a limited amount of space in your brain, so don’t clog it with an overload of information … only store the stuff you can’t look-up.

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What’s wrong with that argument?

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My view has always been that you need a critical mass of info in your brain (a) to retrieve the info when Google isn’t available – say, in a job interview,  and (b) to make sub-conscious connections between data points.

And, I’ve always believed (from my years in sports) that you create muscle memory by exercising your muscles in the right way.

So, if you don’t exercise you brain “muscle”, how can you expert it to perform when you need it?

So, what’s that got to do with Google searches?

The Washington Post ran a blog post titled “How the Internet is ruining your memory”.

That certainly caught my eye.

Inspired by a study of “Digital Amnesia” published by cyber-security experts at Kapersky  and academic research  published in Science, the article posits:

“Now, information is just a click or swipe away. And that’s making us worse at remembering things.”

More specifically, according to  Science:

The results of four studies suggest that 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.

In effect, the Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.

Bottom line: If your memory is slipping, ask Google why … and don’t be surprised if the answer is Google.

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