In graduate school I conducted a psychology study on sports recall that showed participants could remember every Super Bowl/World Series/Final Four team over the previous 10 years. What’s more, with a little work, some of them could remember the score, the most valuable player, or even the date the game took place. While I was amazed at the result, in the following years I discovered dozens of similar experiments.
Lately I’ve wondered whether the findings would still hold. I meet fewer and fewer people with a passion for trivia; we all seem to rely on search engines to recall seldomly used facts.
A Science article titled “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips” makes the case that the Internet has become a primary form of transactive memory. The research shows that we forget things we are confident we can find on the Internet but we are more likely to remember things we think are not available online. Furthermore, we are better at remembering where to find something on the Internet than we are at remembering the information itself.
Since the advent of search engines, we are reorganizing the way we remember things. Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.
More from Sparrow in this video:
As far as I can tell, this is the first research into the impact of search engines on human memory. Despite common wisdom that the Internet makes us lazier and perhaps dumber, the study suggests otherwise. I can unclutter my brain by memorizing only those things I have to remember. Everything else I can look up. This is efficiency, not laziness.
But don’t worry: I can still remember that the SF Giants won last year’s World Series.