Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips
Daniel Wegner, Harvard University
Betsy Sparrow, Columbia University
–-> where have I seenthis ?
The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. 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. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and 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. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.
This finding corresponds to previous work on directed forgetting, showing that when people don’t believe they will need information for a later exam, they do not recall it at the same rate as when they do believe they will need it. Participants apparently did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statements they had read. Be cause search engines are continually available to us, we may often be in a state of not feeling we need to encode the information internally. When we need it, we will look it up. [...] Participants were more affected by the cue that information would or would not be available to them later, regardless of whether they thought they would be tested on it.
These results suggest that processes of human memory are adapting to the advent of new computing and communication technology. Just as we learn through transactive memory who knows what in our families and offices, we are learning what the computer “knows” and when we should attend to where we have stored information in our computer based memories.
We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found. This gives us the advantage of access to a vast range of information,
although the disadvantages of being constantly “wired” are still being debated.
pdf of the paper: ▻http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/dwegner/files/sparrow_et_al._2011.pdf