Google Wipes Your Brain


Related: Nick Carr plumbs The Shallows, more here.

By Tim Moran

Sometimes it's the year a movie was released ("The Thing From Another World"), others it's the name of a one-hit wonder band (who did "Angel Of The Morning?"), occasionally it's related to food ("What's the difference between Russian dressing and Thousand Islands?").

All, in recent weeks, have been questions I've looked up on Google because I either didn't know the answer or just couldn't remember.

I am not alone.

According to a recent study by Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegner titled, Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, "the advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger."

They suggest that, because this is so, we no longer have to make a real effort to find the information we want or need--we can simply "Google" it. Their research shows, based on the results of four studies, that "when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers." That, in itself, is not such a bad thing. However, the researchers further note that when people fully expect to have future access to information via the computer, they tend to have lower rates of recall of the information itself, yet they have better recall regarding where and how to access the information.

Simply put, if you are sure that information will be easily available on the Internet, you will be less likely to worry about remembering it.

"The Internet has become a primary form of external, or transactive, memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves," explain the researchers. While different from how such external memory was stored and accessed in the past, this phenomenon does not necessarily bode ill for our brains or memories. In fact, they think, not having to worry about remembering some information might actually allow us to think more imaginatively and deeply about things.

Oh, to save you the time: 1951; Merrilee Rush & The Turnabouts (1968); and Thousand Islands is basically Russian dressing with chopped up pickles or relish.

And don't you forget it.