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Quick test: what's your supervisor's cell number?  Can you recite it from memory, without looking it up on your phone?  If you can't, you're not alone. 

 

Although businesses are moving more and more into "the cloud," another story went unreported: our brains have already made that move.  With search engines, online databases, and web browsers that auto-fill the form fields, we rely on our own memories less and less.  That was the subject of this story in The Atlantic: Google Is Making Us Stupid and Smart at the Same Time?

 

When I attended a class on search engine optimization a year ago, the instructor said, "Google is my second brain.  If the Internet is down, it's like I've got amnesia.  I don't know my friends' e-mails off the top of my head.  If their numbers aren't saved on my phone, I can't call them because I don't remember their numbers."

 

Here's an excerpt from Google Effects on Memory, the study cited in that article:

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. (emphasis mine)

The second part of that excerpt is key.  We don't remember the information, we remember where to find it.  An analogy is that we don't download a whole book into our brain, we just note the bookmark so we can locate the right page for later. 

 

This trend of relying on external sources of memory is nothing new.  There was a famous story about Albert Einstein having to call his university because he forgot his own home address.  When the person asked why he didn't remember, he said he didn't need to bother, since he could always look up the information in a phone book. 

Have you ever been forced to rely on your own memory, because the Internet was down?  Interested in hearing your stories.

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Tags: google, memory

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