NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Community News Network

September 25, 2013

Is Google wrecking our memory?

Excerpted from "Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better," by Clive Thompson. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Clive Thompson, 2013.

Is the Internet ruining our ability to remember facts? If you've ever lunged for your smartphone during a bar argument ("one-hit father of twerking pop star" — Billy Ray Cyrus!), then you've no doubt felt the nagging fear that your in-brain memory is slowly draining away. As even more fiendishly powerful search tools emerge — from IBM's Jeopardy!-playing Watson to the "predictive search" of Google Now — these worries are, let's face it, only going to grow.

So what's going on? Each time we reach for the mouse pad when we space out on the ingredients for a Tom Collins or the capital of Arkansas, are we losing the power to retain knowledge?

The short answer is: No. Machines aren't ruining our memory.

The longer answer: It's much, much weirder than that!

What's really happening is that we've begun to fit the machines into an age-old technique we evolved thousands of years ago — "transactive memory." That's the art of storing information in the people around us. We have begun to treat search engines, Evernote and smartphones the way we've long treated our spouses, friends and workmates. They're the handy devices we use to compensate for our feeble ability to remember details.

And frankly, our brains have always been terrible at remembering details. We're good at retaining the gist of the information we encounter. But the niggly, specific facts? Not so much. In a 1990 study, long before the Interwebs supposedly corroded our minds, the psychologist Walter Kintsch ran an experiment in which subjects read several sentences. When he tested them 40 minutes later, they could generally remember the sentences word for word. Four days later, though, they were useless at recalling the specific phrasing of the sentences — but still very good at describing the meaning of them.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network

Offbeat
NDN Video
Famous Internet Cats Help Big Cause With Viral Video Raw: Obama Gets Hug From Special Olympian Snoop Dogg Narrating Animal Footage Is Perfect Tigers Acquire David Price - @TheBuzzeronFOX Russell Brand Slams Sean Hannity Over Gaza Conflict Segment Chapter Two: Composing for a film in retirement Woman's Dive Goes Terribly Wrong Brian Williams Reports on Daughter Allison Williams' 'Peter Pan' Casting News Did Jimmy Fallon Look Up Heidi Klum's Dress? What Drama? Miranda Kerr Poses Topless Plane crashes in San Diego Costco parking lot Justin Bieber Takes To Instagram To Diss Orlando Bloom You Won't Believe the Celeb Cameos in "Sharknado 2" Pitch Invading Morons Cause Chaos - @TheBuzzeronFOX Orlando Bloom 'Takes a Swing' at Justin Bieber In Ibiza Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza
Special Features
NRA Waterfront Plans