We're outsourcing our memories to search engines

Columbia University says 'Google effect' changing brains of Internet users

Remember last week when Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said that "every time we create new technology we're creating stuff to do the work we used to do and we're making ourselves less meaningful, less relevant"?

Of course you don't. Why would you, when you could always find that information online?

Here's a perfect example of what Woz was talking about. From the International Business Times:

Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments, in which they found that people are less likely to remember information when they are aware of its availability on online search engines. In a way, Google and the Internet use in general have offloaded memory demands from our brain onto the machines.

"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," said Sparrow.

IBT tries to reassure readers that this "doesn't mean that we are becoming dumb because of Google" (though the jury is out on Facebook, ha ha!), noting that Sparrow says our brains merely are trying to be efficient and that they are "still fully capable" of remembering important information.

I'm not so sure. Let's say you decide, for efficiency's sake, to stop biking five miles to work every day, choosing instead to drive. If you don't compensate for this loss of physical activity, won't your muscles become less conditioned, less able to rise to the occasion when required?

I know the brain is an organ and not a muscle, but countless studies have concluded that, for your brain to remain sharp, it essentially needs to "work out," to be stimulated.

One might argue that storing little bits of information in your brain hardly counts as "stimulation," but one would be wrong. Memory is an important part of a healthy brain's functioning, along with its ability to concentrate, solve problems and adapt.

That's not just my amateur theory. Researchers at McGill University last year produced three studies suggesting that the excessive reliance by drivers on GPS devices may adversely affect their brains' functioning, particularly the hippocampus. From Physorg.com:

The hippocampus is believed to be involved in memory and in navigation processes such as the ability to find new routes and identify short cuts. It is one of the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease, which results in memory loss and difficulties in spatial orientation.

So there you go: Search engines may possibly cause Alzheimer's disease!

OK, that might be a dubious, or perhaps even dumb, conclusion. But what do I care? None of you are going to remember reading this, anyway.

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