It sounds like a tabloid headline: The Internet Ate My Brain!
But that’s more or less what a new study comes down to. It claims that constant exposure to the Net has changed the way we think and especially the way we remember. After all, why bother trying to recall an obscure piece of information if a Google search can find it in five seconds?
“When people expect to have future access to information,” notes the report by Betsy Sparrow, Daniel Wegner and Jenny Liu, “they have lower rates of recall of the information itself, and enhanced recall instead for where to access it.”
Or, as the saying goes, there’s what I know and what I know how to look up. And given the chance, we tend to rely on the second.
And really, that’s not all that new.
Ask any married couple.
You know what I mean. Marriage confers a lot of benefits – a loving partner, a faithful friend, a chance to eat food that doesn’t come out of a colorful cardboard freezer box – but one of the greatest may be that it provides you with a second brain. This is invaluable when your original factory-issued cerebellum breaks down on a matter of crucial importance.
“Hon, what’s the name of the older guy in Sense and Sensibility? You know, the one we really like?”
My parents are the all-time champs at this. They can keep a volley going for minutes at a time, rifling each other’s minds until they come up with the correct answer – or at least, an answer they can both agree on.
“Isn’t he the guy who was in …”
“No, I know who you’re thinking of. That’s the guy from the movie last week.”
“No, the guy in the movie last week was the one in that comedy, the one with the college student.”
“That wasn’t a guy, that was Emma Thompson.”
“No, the one WITH Emma Thompson.”
“Right, which is the one from …”
Major international summits have involved less discussion.
Really, for most of us, it’s a lot like searching the Net. You know you could find the answer in a book. There’s a good chance the book will be more accurate. But searching the backup brain is convenient. It’s familiar. And it only occasionally results in having to sleep on the couch.
If there’s any danger in the march of technology at all, it’s that we might have even less reason to talk to our spouses than before. As if 24-hour sports channels hadn’t done enough damage.
It sounds a lot like this move I saw once.
You know the one?
It had this guy …