Is the Internet replacing our own memory?
A new study takes a look at how an external memory system like the Internet affects our ability to remember information.
July 14th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Is the Internet replacing our own memory?

Can’t remember the name of the movie you saw last year starring Emily Deschanel’s sister? Or that recipe you used for chicken salad last week?

With an Internet connection and a few keystrokes, you can probably figure out the answer in a matter of minutes, tops. But the flip side, suggests new research in the journal Science, is that when you rely on having information stored somewhere, you may be less likely to remember it yourself.

“We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where information can be found,” the study authors write.

But before you freak out about machines doing all your remembering for you, consider that people have always relied on each other for retrieving information, even before computers.

In fact, in any group of two or more people who know each other, there develops what’s called transactive memory systems. That means that you use other people as external memory, because they have specific knowledge and expertise that you don’t.

“The internet, when you think about it, is people putting content online. And so what it’s doing is, it’s allowing us to have access to much more external memory. Our network of people is just vastly expanded.,” said Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

In one of Sparrow’s experiments, participants read and typed trivia statements that could be found online, such as “An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.” Participants were told that the statements would be saved to different folders with generic names such as “Facts, etc.” They then had to write down as many of the statements as they remembered and were asked to name the folder in which the information had been saved.

Remarkably, people were much better able to recall the folder names of the trivia statements than the trivia itself. In other words, people remembered the “where” better than the “what.”

As with people accustomed to looking up their questions on resources such as Wikipedia and Google, participants may have expected information to remain available indefinitely, and so the source of the information stuck with them better than the trivia statements themselves, the study authors said.

Another experiment showed that people seem to remember information better if they believe it won’t be accessible later, and more easily forget items that they believe will always be available.

“I thought that telling people to try to remember it, even though it would be accessible, would do something. It did absolutely nothing,” Sparrow said.

But Sparrow isn’t worried that relying on external memory systems like the Internet is going to cause our brains to atrophy. There might be things that we used to know and forget, but we’ll still hang on to what’s useful on a daily basis, she said.

“The stuff that we’re experts in, that we’re the source for other people, is stuff I think we’ll always remember, regardless of whether it’s online or not,” she said.

soundoff (1,522 Responses)
  1. www.wearethenationnews.com entertainment

    great post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector don't notice this. You must continue your writing. I'm confident, you have a great readers' base already!


    March 3, 2021 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Political News

    Thanks for every other informative web site. The place else may I get that kind of information written in such an ideal approach? I've a project that I'm simply now running on, and I have been at the look out for such information.


    March 3, 2021 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. 우리카지노

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to come back yet again since I bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help other people.


    March 3, 2021 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Wilda Alamia

    Encontre as Melhores Ofertas e Cupons no Os10Melhor. Reunimos promoções de Smartphones, TVs, Moda e muito mais. O menor preço nas melhores lojas.


    March 4, 2021 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. 우리카지노쿠폰

    I was able to find good advice from your content.


    March 4, 2021 at 02:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. 우리카지노


    March 4, 2021 at 02:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. 출장마사지

    Good site you have got here.. It챠s hard to find high quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!


    March 4, 2021 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Molly Galluzzo

    Encontre as Melhores Ofertas e Cupons no Os10Melhores. Reunimos promoções de Smartphones, TVs, Moda e muito mais. O menor preço nas melhores lojas.


    March 4, 2021 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Retta Levi

    Encontre as Melhores Ofertas e Cupons no Os10Melhores. Reunimos promoções de Smartphones, TVs, Moda e muito mais. O menor preço nas melhores lojas.


    March 5, 2021 at 01:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. microsoft office home and business 2019 cheap price

    Currently it looks like BlogEngine is the best blogging platform out there right now. (from what I've read) Is that what you're using on your blog?


    March 5, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. 우리카지노쿠폰


    March 5, 2021 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. office home and business 2019 price

    I feel this is among the such a lot significant information for me. And i am satisfied reading your article. However wanna commentary on some general issues, The site style is wonderful, the articles is really excellent : D. Good activity, cheers


    March 5, 2021 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. cheap dumpster rental new york

    « Definitely believe that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the web the simplest thing tobe aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people consider worries that they just don’t know about.You managed to hit the nail upon the top and definedout the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal.Will likely be back to get more. Thanks »


    March 5, 2021 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. 우리카지노계열


    March 5, 2021 at 09:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. 바카라사이트주소

    Having read this I believed it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this content together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!


    March 5, 2021 at 09:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. office home and student 2019 discount

    Can I simply say what a aid to find somebody who truly knows what theyre speaking about on the internet. You positively know find out how to deliver a difficulty to light and make it important. More people must read this and understand this facet of the story. I cant consider youre not more fashionable because you positively have the gift.


    March 5, 2021 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. 먹튀검증커뮤니티

    Good day! I could have sworn Iíve visited your blog before but after browsing through some of the posts I realized itís new to me. Regardless, Iím certainly happy I stumbled upon it and Iíll be bookmarking it and checking back frequently!


    March 5, 2021 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. microsoft office home and student 2019 for windows

    Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News? I've been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Thank you


    March 5, 2021 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Jewelry

    I am sure this article has touched all the internet users,
    its really really good paragraph on building up new

    March 5, 2021 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. 먹튀검증

    I needed to thank you for this very good read!! I absolutely loved every little bit of it. I have you book-marked to check out new things you postÖ


    March 6, 2021 at 02:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. 먹튀검증

    This is a very good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Short but very precise informationÖ Thank you for sharing this one. A must read article!


    March 6, 2021 at 06:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. buy cheap windows 10 home product key

    Hello. fantastic job. I did not imagine this. This is a remarkable story. Thanks!


    March 6, 2021 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. More Info

    certainly like your web site however you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth however I will certainly come back again.


    March 6, 2021 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. buy windows 10 professional key

    Hey there this is kinda of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!


    March 7, 2021 at 01:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. 사설토토


    March 8, 2021 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. CSR Racing 2 Hack Tool

    You can surely run this our game hack from your PC, iOS or Android device without spending any actual dollars and generate your unlimited resources in just a couple of mins. Using our game hack tool from any device is really convenient. You can absolutely use it from Android, PC, iPhone, Mac or Windows, and acquire your resources without having to spend any single dollar or penny.


    March 8, 2021 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. 사설토토


    March 8, 2021 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. windows 10 genuine price

    Wow! This can be one particular of the most useful blogs We have ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Magnificent. I am also an expert in this topic so I can understand your hard work.


    March 8, 2021 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. https://rexonaclinic.com

    I know this if off topic but I'm looking into starting my own weblog and
    was wondering what all is required to get set up?
    I'm assuming having a blog like yours would
    cost a pretty penny? I'm not very internet savvy so I'm not 100% sure.
    Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    March 8, 2021 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. ggwpstore

    Thanks very interesting blog!

    Review my web-site – ggwpstore

    March 8, 2021 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Visit

    Hey there, You've done a great job. I will definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I'm confident they'll be benefited from this website.


    March 8, 2021 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. 사설토토


    March 8, 2021 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. galeri qq

    I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your sites
    really nice, keep it up! I'll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back down the
    road. All the best

    Here is my web site galeri qq

    March 8, 2021 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. 사설토토


    March 9, 2021 at 03:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. pkv games

    My family all the time say that I am killing my time here at net,
    but I know I am getting know-how daily by reading such
    fastidious posts.

    March 9, 2021 at 06:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Best Home Loan in Pune

    This really answered my drawback, thanks!


    March 9, 2021 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Website

    I'm extremely inspired along with your writing skills as well as with the structure for your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way stay up the excellent high quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays..


    March 9, 2021 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Martensitic steel blow bars

    Your Online Metal Marketplace In Texas With Lowest Prices, Guaranteed. Countless Steel Items Available, Custom or Stock. Call Our Experts, Shop Steel Now


    March 9, 2021 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. 출장 안마

    I am extremely inspired together with your writing talents as
    neatly as with the structure for your weblog. Is this a paid subject matter
    or did you customize it your self? Anyway keep up the nice high quality writing, it's rare to
    peer a nice blog like this one nowadays..

    March 9, 2021 at 21:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. fishing hook hack

    Our game hack online is developed to obtain free limitless resources in a quick and effortless way by following a couple of easy-to-follow steps. The process for earning free limitless resources is indeed pretty straightforward but only if you follow our simple steps of using our game hack.


    March 10, 2021 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. zombie castaways hack online

    By using our game hack online presented today for you, you will be able to speed up your process in this game and become the major player in the entire gaming world. To take pleasure in this game to the maximum, and advance in this game much easier, you will need to use our free and working game hack online. It will certainly allow you to compete with the leading gamers in the gaming community.


    March 10, 2021 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. sbm cone crusher parts

    Likewise called carbon steel, this product is among one of the most common choices you'll find for bearings The 52100 bearing steel is a high carbon, low alloy steel which contains chromium. These features make chrome steel a great selection for most basic applications in need of slim area bearings.


    March 10, 2021 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Domain Rating Checker

    I was just looking for this information for some time. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your site. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don't rank this type of informative websites in top of the list. Normally the top websites are full of garbage.


    March 10, 2021 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Increase Ahrefs Domain Rating

    Aw, this was a really nice post. In concept I wish to put in writing like this additionally – taking time and actual effort to make an excellent article… however what can I say… I procrastinate alot and on no account seem to get something done.


    March 10, 2021 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Spiral welded pipe

    Leading supplier and also exporter for carbon steel pipeline, seamless steel pipe, api 5l line pipe, architectural steel pipeline and so on


    March 11, 2021 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. https://gumroad.com/

    I have read so many articles or reviews about the blogger lovers but this
    article is really a good paragraph, keep it up.

    March 11, 2021 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. 먹튀헬


    March 11, 2021 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. 6th new book

    There is apparently a bunch to realize about this. I suppose you made some nice points in features also.


    March 11, 2021 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. tnusrb question paper and answer key

    I have been surfing on-line more than 3 hours nowadays, but I by no means found any attention-grabbing article like yours. It’s lovely price enough for me. In my view, if all web owners and bloggers made good content material as you did, the web can be a lot more helpful than ever before.


    March 12, 2021 at 00:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. inverter welding wires

    Harbor Freight purchases their top-notch devices from the same factories that supply our rivals. We removed the intermediary and also pass the savings to you!


    March 13, 2021 at 02:23 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.