Information has never been easier to find or store. As the Internet allows us to find the answer to even the most difficult question within seconds, we don’t even need to keep the answers in our minds.
We can just look them up again searching in Google. Yet, experts point out the other side of the coin, warning that the convenience Google offers us can in fact turn out to be harmful for our memory.
As a matter of fact, the debate over the adverse effects of the Internet, including its psychological, social and physical pitfalls, is not a new one.
However, research into the impact of search engines on human memory organization carried out by psychologist Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor at Columbia University in New York, and her colleagues Jenny Liu, an academic from the department of psychology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and Daniel M. Wegner, from the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, has revealed that the Internet, particularly search engines like Google, is changing the nature of our memory and the way it functions.
The study argues that our constant habit of checking Google for any tidbit of information has trained us to use the Internet as an “external memory,” lessening the need for our brains to store the information. This is widely known as the “Google effect.”
It further argues that the Internet acts as “transactive memory,” a theory that was first proposed by Wegner in 1985 and was used to describe a method by which our brains compartmentalize information. Simply put, with a combined memory system where each individual is in charge of certain information, group members have access to more and better knowledge.
The results of the experiments conducted by Sparrow and her colleagues have shown that the experimental subjects were better able to recall the source than the information itself.
In a way, by letting the Internet “remember” the skyrocketing amount of information, people use Google and the Internet in general to offload memory demands from our brain onto the machines.
A computer engineer, Safa Akbulut, agrees with Sparrow’s argument based on his own experience. “With Google’s reign, there is no need to memorize anything any more. If someone knows he will have future access to information on the Internet, he won’t remember information as long as he is told that it won’t be available. But he does recall exactly where to find it and where the information is stored. The same is true for phone numbers. I used to know a couple of dozen numbers by heart. Now, since they’re all stored in my phone or my computer, I don’t bother to memorize them,” he notes.
Academic ?lker Köse, who has conducted research into human-computer interaction, has told Sunday’s Zaman that fast-growing technology has affected the need for information, speed and accuracy of accessing information and means of storing information. “A result of the research on this issue is that we have a different approach to information we obtain today via technological means than the information we used to obtain from our environment, family, books, etc.,” he said.
In the meantime, saying that the more technology advances, the more information consumption increases and so the more the quality of information decreases, neurology specialist Lütfü Hano?lu explained: “For this reason, the human brain prefers to store only the most important pieces of information. Experiments have revealed that the human brain stores merely the information it will urgently need later. Unnecessary information is eliminated at once. This reminds us of [Persian Muslim theologian and mystic] Al-Ghazali’s quote that ‘knowledge which can easily be stolen is no knowledge at all’.”
Hano?lu adds: “The past century was undoubtedly the era of ‘experts.’ But it seems that era is over because the advancing technology collects and stores all developments in the world in one common memory and offers them to the use of human beings. This way, all incidents and developments can be commented on and analyzed by millions of brains. This immense information formed by millions of comments and analyses constitute one giant library — which is basically the Google of today.”
Sparrow herself is not so pessimistic over what she has found through her research. “I don’t think Google is making us stupid. We’re just changing the way we’re remembering things. It’s just like it would be with people — the skill to have is to remember who to go see about [particular topics],” she said in one of her recent interviews.
But as other endless debates over technology prove, the benefit of Internet resources will always be accompanied by their negative impact.