Monday, July 18, 2011

The Rewiring of Our Brain by Google

   Last week Science magazine published a research by Columbia University psychologist Betty Sparrow titled "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips". Since then there have been numerous posts on the topic exploring the subject to conclude whether this is good or bad for us humans.
   The research explains that we have now begun to outsource our memory to the internet. Particularly, Betty is trying to point that instead of remembering the information itself, we now tend to remember where we can locate that information, sort of like indexingI believe this has always been the case, the difference now is just that the medium of memory storage has changed. In ancient times people passed on information from generation to generation via rote learning and literally remembering the scriptures. Then the birth of writing and paper led to them ink down those scriptures on paper and other mediums which led to books as a medium of storing and spreading information. With the advent of physical memory storage came devices like floppy disks, CDs, hard disks etc. and a new medium had emerged.
   Today if I am looking for information on any topic I can just search it over the internet which makes massive information available at our fingertips. This information overload is so enormous that now we are fed with enough information in a day that our forefathers could have accumulated in their entire lives. Imagine the power that Wikipedia has given to each one of us by making a huge database of massive facts on every topic in the world available to us instantly and at all times. When I was a kid, gaining information on our topics of interest was a tedious task. So we were left with little or no information on various topics that interested us and that sort of killed our curiosity. Fast forward to today, and the internet has given us tools to not just satisfy our curiosity for infinite knowledge but also grow it. How many times have you gone on Wikipedia to search for a particular  topic and ended up reading hours about similar such topics? So you see internet may be rewiring our brain but there are positive effects too.
    While I am no expert on this matter and its long-term effects are yet to be seen, I do believe outsourcing our memory for tasks like historical facts isn't troublesome. Who knows if relieving our brain of storing not-so-critical facts may even make it work more efficiently in some other way. And one thing is for sure, one never tends to forget things about a topic he/she is particularly interested in. More importantly, memorization isn't as important as other tasks our brain is entitled to carry out like creativity, imagination. Even the education systems worldwide are moving away from the method rote learning (or learning by heart as some call it) to system which promotes critical thinking and logical reasoning. The point I am trying to make here is that the rewiring of our brain by internet in general and online search engines and encyclopedias in particular may have some real positive effects too in the long run.


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