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Monday, August 08, 2011

The Internet & way we remember information

While using the Internet it has often occurred to me that, on occasions, there are certain information that I choose how to access when required rather than actually remembering the information itself. For example, the other day, while Googling something, I came across an article. While it was interesting, I did not want to read it at that moment nor did I bother to remember the URL or tag it using Read it Later. Though I've yet to read the article, but almost a week later I still know how to access it:

  • Google the keyword that originally brought up the result
  • Go to the third page of the result
  • Click on the relevant URLs on that page
  • In the page that opens up, is the URL to the article I was interested in reading later

Now, if Google decides to mess up with their algorithm, leading to the page coming up much further beyond the third page, or worse, not come up at all, I'd be screwed if my life depended on getting that information. So far, I'd attributed this way of remembering [rather, not bothering to remember] things to my own pathological affinity towards procrastination. Turns out, thankfully or otherwise, I was wrong. A research carried out by a team headed by this lady essentially concluded that this way of [not] remembering is not uncommon amongst those who have an easy access to the Internet.

They concluded that the manner in which we are utilizing Internet for the aforementioned task was an evolution of the Transactive Memory that humans have been making use of for long. However, while traditionally, Transactive Memories have been provided to us by other humans, ability to get the same, now from the Internet has prompted us to switch over to it, subject to availability.

This does not necessarily  imply that we are becoming dumber with our increasing dependence on the Internet. A major reason for this, however, can be explained by the fact that not enough studies have been carried out yet to draw any conclusive conclusions. Till such time that any such study has been completed, we're all not very unlike Schrödinger's cat - we could all be getting dumber & not getting dumber - at the same time.

Internet Search Engines & its effect on remembering & accessing information

The paper: Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips

Another video: Memory Works Differently in the Age of Google

An article: Is Google Ruining Your Memory?