Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It can be better not to rely on memory!

[R]ather than relying on memorizing often out-of-date facts, and still usually only half-remembering them, embrace the idea that we have the Internet at our disposal, with search engines at our fingertips that enable us to search for any fact we need anytime.

This is already happening. A recent paper in the journal Science finds that people are coming to rely more and more on search engines rather than their own memory. When the study was released, many people fretted about this and how it is hurting our brains and making us dumber. While this is certainly a common argument, I took away the opposite conclusion. Paradoxically, by not relying on our own memories, we become more likely to be up-to-date in our facts, because the newest knowledge is more likely to be online than in our own heads.
Samuel Arbesman, The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date (New York: Current, Penguin USA, 2012), ch. 9 (citing Betsy sparrow, Jenny Liu & Daniel M. Wegner, "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips," Science, vol. 353, no. 6043 (2011), pp. 776-78)

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