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New American Study Says Internet Now Compliments Human Memory

A new science journal from Harvard and Columbia Universities in the United States has come out with some radical theories about how the internet and the way it interacts with our minds when we use it.

The report purports the theory of the use of the Internet as a ‘transactive memory’ by humans, which means people are leaning towards using the internet as an external way of remembering information.

“The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger,” says the report “No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want.

“The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.

“The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.”

Betsy Sparrow, the lead author of the report thinks that transactive memory “is an idea that there are external memory sources – really storage places that exist in other people”.

The study behind the report was conducted by giving participants a bundle of factual information, with half of the test group being assured that the information was saved and uploaded, while the other group was told the information was deleted.

So, half the group has no idea where to retrieve the information from but knows it exists, whereas the other half has no idea where to quote their information from because they believe there is no source.

This yielded interesting results. Those who believed the data was not available elsewhere did better in recalling the data, whilst those who believed it was freely available instead could recall the location of the data but not the contents of the file it was stored in.

This means that if we are assured we cannot find data a second time we remember it, but if we have the details of the data’s location we remember that instead.

Take this information back thousands of years and apply it to our hunter-gatherer ancestors and it’s a lot easier to understand. Half the group know that the red berries are poisonous and the blue ones are not, but not where to find them, so if they come across them they are protected.

The other half knows where to find both colours of berry but not if they’re poisonous or not, meaning they are less safe. When both groups share their information via word of mouth (the equivalent of the internet at this point in time) both groups are protected from red berry inflicted stomach illness.

“This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored,” said Dr Sparrow. “I don’t think Google is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things.

“If you can find stuff online even while you’re walking down the street these days, then the skill to have, the thing to remember, is where to go to find the information.”

Interesting study Doc, but what about people who know where to find facts and what they are anyway, who regularly go to a domain in order to prove a point or argument?

Although, you could argue that the necessity for knowing the location of a fact is to recall it, meaning that if you already know about something you don’t need to know where it’s stored.

All interesting stuff.

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