Is the Internet Eroding Humanity’s Capability to Remember Basic Facts?
Based on recent scientific findings, it would seem that computers have begun to replace human memory. Researchers Benjamin Storm, Sean Stone, and Aaron Benjamin have found that, with the near omnipresent availability of the Internet for the human race to reference for answers, the tendency to rely on external references as a source of information over a brain’s memory has increased, and what’s more, continues to increase at an observable rate.
Known as cognitive offloading, researchers observed this after conducting experiments to test how apt society was to reach for a device to answer trivia questions. After splitting the research subjects into two groups – those who could consult the Internet and those who could not – the subjects were quizzed on difficult trivia questions. For later questions, all participants could use whatever method they wished. The results found are striking.
The participants of the study who were permitted to reference Google in the beginning displayed tendencies to revert back to using the search engine much more quickly and much more often than the group primed to initially rely more heavily on their own memory. A full 30 percent of the Internet-using group didn’t even bother to attempt answering the later questions from memory, electing to search for every answer online.
As Dr. Storm, who holds lead authorship credit on the study’s findings, noted, “Memory is changing. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”
This may not necessarily be a bad thing, either. The human memory is a notoriously unreliable thing, susceptible to change by the smallest of suggestions or stimuli. Computer memory, on the other hand, preserves a reliable document that is safe (barring deletion or disaster) from the weaknesses found in the mind.
What about you? Have you found yourself becoming more reliant on the Internet for answers to basic facts? Or do you trust your old noggin over the computer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!