Overblown concern about Google “replacing” or “destroying” our memory

The headlines read: “Google ousts brain,” “Google replaces the brain,” “Here’s how Google search is destroying our memory.” These are all based on a new study:

The Internet is becoming our main source of memory instead of our own brains, a study has concluded.

In the age of Google, our minds are adapting so that we are experts at knowing where to find information even though we don’t recall what it is.

The researchers found that when we want to know something we use the Internet as an ‘external memory’ just as computers use an external hard drive…

‘The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.’

This an example of “distributed cognition,” the idea that humans use other sources to extend their brain’s capacity. In this case, memory space in the brain may be freed up by relying on Google and computers to store certain information. Instead of “replacing” the brain, Google is extending the brain and helping humans offload certain information that can helpfully be stored elsewhere. Google isn’t the first technology that allows this; so does the printed page. Rather than storing a bunch of arcane and typically unhelpful information in our head, we could look up basic information in a reference book.

Perhaps people are more concerned about Google itself and the idea that a corporation, an organization more interested in profit than our well-being, may be behind changes in our brain.

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