What would you give for a device that would expand your memory exponentially, allowing you to remember millions if not billions of facts? Well, good news! You probably already have one. In fact, you’re reading this blog with such a device.
So, what am I talking about? It’s called the Google Effect and it was first described in a study by Sparrow et al., in 2011. So what is the Google Effect? Basically the study found that with the advent of search engines people are more likely to remember where they found information rather than the information itself. So instead of remembering the capital of Somaliland, we’re more likely to remember that a quick Google search will get us the required information (Hargeisa – but you won’t remember that).
Many news sources have portrayed the findings in a negative light, with many asking if Google is destroying our memory. Is it? Is this incredibly depressing news that portends the end of civilization as we know it?
Not according to Betsy Sparrow, the lead author of the study:
“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.”
The Google Effect is merely a subset of Transactive Memory, as first proposed by Daniel Wegner in 1985. Essentially we have always stored “memories” outside of our minds, normally in family members, friends and colleagues or in libraries or notebooks. Instead of remembering some stuff we instead remember who to ask about it.
So in effect the main finding of this study may be that the Internet is your friend. But you knew that already.
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