Is Google re-wiring our brains?
“Why don’t you just Google it?”
It’s a question that’s heard thousands of times a day in homes and workplaces all over the country. If we don’t know or can’t remember something, then we can just jump online and pull up Google or some other search engine. Now, a study out of Columbia University suggests that all that Googling may be starting to impact the way our brains work and how we think.
“Since the advent of search engines, we are reorganizing the way we remember things,” said Columbia University psychology professor Betsy Sparrow. “Our brains rely on the Internet for memory much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We rely less through knowing information itself that by knowing where the information can be found.”
In a paper titled Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, Professor Sparrow and her colleagues explain that the Internet has become a primary form of what psychologists call transactive memory – recollections that are external to us but that we know when and how to access.
The result is that we are more likely to forget things that we are confident we can find on the Internet, and we are more likely to remember things that are not easily available online. Furthermore, if we are relying on the Internet, we are better able to remember where to find something online than we are at remembering the information itself.
This doesn’t mean we are becoming less smart or more forgetful. In fact, it could have the opposite result – if our brains no longer have to store mountains of historical or geographical information, we are more likely to remember our favorite niece’s birthday or where we left the car keys.
Prof. Sparrow believes that a greater understanding of how our brains work in the Google age could have a beneficial impact on the way we learn.
“Perhaps those who teach in any context, be they college professors, doctors, or business leaders, will become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorization,” she said. “And perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding.”