The Google effect: Training our brains

By Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.
November 14, 2011

A recent headline proclaimed, “Digital Universe to Smash ‘Zettabyte’ Barrier for the First Time” telling us that the amount of available digital content is equivalent to everyone in the world tweeting or blogging constantly for a century or, put another way, the same as a stack of CDs — each full of data — extending from your desk to 200,000 miles past the moon. And this figure is doubling annually.

In a recent study, Betsy Sparrow, a professor at Columbia University, demonstrated that we have begun to use our computer (and the Internet) as a robust external memory. In her studies, Sparrow found that if someone were presented a list of obscure facts they would remember where they stored that information better than the information itself, even down to computer folder where it was deposited. In other words, if someone knows that information will be available online or on their computer they seemingly choose to remember where the information is opposed to simply remembering it.

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