Internet as a memory source


An interesting research is conducted by B. Sparrow, J. Liu and D.M. Wegner in 2011 and presented in  ‘Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips’. Their experiments focus on whether online access to search engines has become a primary transactive* memory source. They have conducted four experiments proving that:

01. when we are faced with a gap in our knowledge, we are primed to turn to the computer to rectify the situation (…) 02. when people don’t believe that they will need information for a later exam, they do not recall it at the same rate as when they do believe they will need it (…) 03. believing that one won’t have access to the information in the future enhances memory for the information itself, whereas believing the information was saved externally enhances memory for the fact that the information could be accessed at lest in general (…) 04. people don’t remember “where” when they know “what”but do remember where to find the information when they don’t recall it (…) people expect information to remain continuously available.

The results of the study suggest that processes of human memory are adapting to the advent of new computing and communication technology. In ” The Internet as a Memory Source: How the Brain is Keeping Up” the author uses this information to focus to the neurological/biological implications of this development. Is the existence of internet and its use as an external memory source changing the way our brains form synapses? For it seems that we no longer store information in the long term memory but rather its location.

Sparrow et al. use an interesting phrase: “we are becoming”, they say, “symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems”. It’s almost as if remembering through these systems is not any different that sharing memories with other individuals, plus through internet we have access to a vast range of information at any point.

*TRANSACTIVE memory: a combination of memory stores held directly by individuals and the memory stores they can access because they know someone who knows that information.

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