How Google & Technology is Changing Your Brain’s Rote Memory

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A recent study has confirmed that the search engine Google is changing your brain and altering the way it works, seriously. But then again, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise since any new technology is going to change the way that our neurons fire and brain works. Anyways, a group of people got money for a study called “The Google Effect” led by Betsy Sparrow at Columbia University. Findings from the study led by Betsy were published in the popular journal, “Science.”

How is Google changing your brain? What did The Google Effect study find?

Contrary to popular myth that using the internet is making people dumber, that wasn’t what the researchers found. What they found was the fact that using the Google search engine causes the brain to reorganize its memories for information. Instead of relying on what is called “Rote memory,” people are using new technology such as their computers and Google to get the job done. In other words, instead of people using their brains directly to pull up information are basically saying, “I can just quick go Google it instead of try to test my memory.”

Are human brains evolving with technology?

The findings shouldn’t really come as a surprise because people’s brains change as they have new experiences. If you blindfold yourself for a few days and cannot rely on vision, your brain will naturally rewire itself so that your sense of sound becomes more enhanced; this is a proven phenomenon. Similarly if you lost your hearing for a few days, you would begin to have increased visual skills.

  • Anyways, it makes total sense that since new technology is always being introduced that our brains evolve as we learn how to use it. These days it makes way more sense to just Google something rather than sit for an hour and try to dig a memory out of our subconscious. With such easy access to Google (via phones, computers, iPads, etc.) when people don’t know the answer to something or need to look up information, they just Google it. The study basically says that we are outsourcing our rote memory search to Google and taking the job away from our brain.

    We know where to go to find information: Google

    Sparrow was quoted as saying, “We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore.” She continued stating, “But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that’s kind of amazing.” What else is crazy is that Sparrow et al. at Columbia found that people are more likely to remember trivial facts if they think it will get erased from their computer, but will forget it if they are sure that it will be there. I’m sure I would fall victim to this as well because I rely on my computer for a lot of information. Knowing what Sparrow has done though and found through her study makes a lot of sense to me.

    Losing your internet connection feels like losing a friend?

    The team of researchers noted that losing your internet connection will feel like losing a friend. It doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, but people that use their computers and the internet a lot have become dependent on the technology. Seriously try going 30 days without the internet or computer and I bet that you’ll have a tough time. A lot of people spend more time on the internet than they do interacting with real people. Maybe that’s why people are more prone to developing things like Schizoid Personality Disorder. Basically what we have created is a dependency to instant access to information; we rely on Google to give us information that we cannot remember.

    What are the implications for relying on Google for all of our information?

    Basically it’s tough to get away from Google once we become so accustomed to using it. The scientific paper for this study states, “We must remain plugged in to what Google knows.” Now those are pretty strong words saying “we must remain plugged in.” There’s where I disagree. I think that we can remain plugged into what Google knows and it would be smart to do so because it’s convenient, quicker, and easier. However, I think that “must” shouldn’t have been used in that sentence because someone could shut themselves off from technology and their brain would likely rewire itself and the person would be able to adapt.

    Is our reliance on Google to help with memory a bad thing?

    What may confuse some people is that our reliance on Google for information isn’t a bad thing at all. Some people may initially get confused when they read this article and stop using the internet altogether; that wouldn’t be smart. Humans throughout history have been relying on other information reservoirs (e.g. other people) to help them out for years. Basically what Sparrow says is that before Google, humans were just asking other people that they knew to help recall information through what are referred to as “group memories” or memories that are passed on from human to human in groups. So if you forgot something about a certain place or event, you would just ask a person (family member, friend, etc.) with knowledge in that area. The nice thing about using Google is that you can quickly get awesome information without having to even pick up the phone and call someone that you know.

    Nicolas Carr asks “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

    Nicolas Carr is a guy that wrote an article back in 2008 which shocked some people saying that digital devices and technology may be making us less intelligent. I will say that I think we’ve gotten mentally lazier because we can outsource so many tasks to other technological outlets. With that said, I think it makes sense to just use technology for what you can because it’s quicker. For example, instead of trying to multiply 10382732 x 28723792 in your head on a homework problem, it would make a lot more sense to just use a calculator or search engine. In other words, people are using technology when it makes sense to do so and could save them time and stress.

    Final thoughts regarding The Google Effect study

    It seems as though using Google actually may be freeing up parts of our brain to use for other, more creative pursuits. Most people in the field of psychology know that it is easier to learn and understand complex concepts when the brain doesn’t have to worry about remembering information. So Google may be helping people out in the fact that it frees up some mental RAM and increases their processing speed of other information. Roddy Roediger (a Washington University psychologist) was quoted as saying “Why remember something if I know I can look it up again? In some sense, with Google and other search engines, we can offload some of our memory demands onto machines.”

    Why I don’t think the Google study is groundbreaking

    For me, this study really isn’t as groundbreaking as the media hyped it up to be, but I think other people may think that it’s pretty cool to learn about. I think it’s good that there are passionate psychologists out there interested in learning about memory and its relationship to technology, but studies like this to me are temporary news hype. Your brain will continue to evolve over time in response to the environmental stimuli that it is presented with. So finding out that Google has changed the way people remember things makes so much intuitive sense that I don’t even think we needed a study like this to let us know.

    Our brains will continue to change and adapt…

    Although I found the study interesting, I don’t consider it groundbreaking by any means. It just shows that the brain can change and adapt depending on what technology you use or don’t use. I’ll leave the final words regarding this study for the lead researcher Betsy Sparrow: “We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore but we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that’s kind of amazing.”

    No, thanks!