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Scientific study shows internet use changes human memory


The internet has fundamentally affected the way people access and store information, and many people (myself included) have wondered if it's also changing the way our minds work. According to the New York Times, a recently published scientific paper shows that we are indeed changing the way we store information in our brains thanks to the internet.

The paper's title, "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips" sounds faintly ominous, and the study results do show that people are less likely to retain information if they believe they'll simply be able to Google it later. According to the study's abstract, "When people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it."

The implication here seems to be that instead of dumbing us all down and turning our memories into sieves, we're becoming less reliant on our own memories and more capable of turning to external sources for finding information. Before the internet, finding an esoteric bit of data usually meant a trip to a library or other physical storehouse and a laborious search, which made retaining that data in one's own memory more important; now, that same data is accessible within seconds if you've got a decent 3G connection. In a sense, we've offloaded a portion of our own memory into the "cloud."

The Star Trek geek in me has to point out that these handheld boxes we use to access a huge storehouse of information, supplementing our comparatively limited "wetware" memories, is similar in many ways to the Bynars from the first season of The Next Generation. Those fictional aliens were reliant on their equivalent of the internet to a vulnerable extent, however; without their central computer, they'd be unable to survive. We haven't reached that point quite yet, but as Google and related online services supplement human memory more and more, trivia demigods like Ken Jennings may become increasingly rare in future generations.

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