The Internet Changes How Memory Works

I’ve known it for years.  As I’ve studied hundreds of books for school and work I’ve been a highlighter.  I’ve put those little flags on pages, written small notes to myself in the margins and even folded over the corner of books (hard to sell them on the used market, by the way).  No reason to remember all the facts, when I could remember where I could go to look them up.  Turns out I might have been ahead of the game.

New research, conducted by examining 46 college students, has shownthat their recall on newly-learned facts was substantially worse when they knew that the facts could be researched and found readily online.  Turns out that if you know that a fact is easy to find on the Internet, you are less likely to learn it.

Known as Transactive Memory, this technique is often seen in groups of people who are working on projects together.  Why would everyone in the group need to know everything about the entire project when they can just go to the keeper of a particular bit of knowledge.

The study also showed that people who relied heavily on transactive memory were more likely to be fooled when their memories of specific events were changed.  It turns out that their memory processes might be more readily manipulated.

It’s not all bad, though.  The members of the study’s memory ability only fell about 9% when they thought data was stored online and could be easily retrieved.

It looks like Google and its descendants will be with us for many years to come as we rely on them to be our memory depository.  Let’s hope that they don’t decide to change their corporate slogan from “Don’t be Evil“!