Search engines ruin our memory, make us smarter

Researchers say that search engines are changing how we think. The question is: is that a good thing?

By now you've probably heard that Google and other search engines are making us think differently. Columbia University researcher Betsy Sparrow said we are remembering less information if it is readily available online, but we are remembering where we can find that information on the Internet.

This raises a debate: Does this new research mean that we are getting lazy and stupid or is the Web turning into our external memory drive?

Sparrow's research shows that they way our memory uses the Web isn't unlike how we would have relied on other people in the past.

"Since the advent of search engines, we are reorganizing the way we remember things," Sparrow says in her report. "Our brains rely on the Internet for memory in much the same way they rely on the memory of a friend, family member or co-worker. We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found."

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure the Internet has a lot more information bouncing around it than the brains of my friends, family members, and co-workers. (No offense, guys!) That is almost like being friends with the Oxford English Dictionary and a few sets of Encyclopedias. The tricky part is knowing what sources have reliable information and which ones don't. Plenty of garbage out there is masquerading as truth or fact. If we don't have discerning minds, we can easily think we have an answer, when we really have false information or half-truths.

I like to think that Sparrow's findings means we are more like research librarians than lazy students: we might not know everything, but we have a pretty good idea where to find information when we need to. That isn't to say that we shouldn't be committing certain things to memory. Just because we have calculators doesn't mean that we shouldn't be able to do some basic number crunching in our heads.

I think the sweet spot would be if we can harness the Net to take over mundane tasks and free more brain power for critical thinking and creativity -- two things that can't be easily supplemented by computers.

What do you think? Can search engines better equip us for critical thinking and reasoning skills? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Follow Paul Suarez as @paulsuarez on Twitter or throw him in one of your circles on Google+. and check out Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags searchtrendsGoogleresearchinternetsearch engines

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Suarez

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?