Several years ago, tech writer Nicholas Carr sparked a debate with his thought-provoking Atlantic article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In it, Carr suggested that not only is the Internet shaping our lives – it’s physically changing our the way that our brains function.
“[W]hat the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
Intrigued by this question, researchers from UW-Madison, Columbia, Harvard took a closer look at what having constant access to information does to our capacity to retain information, reports Interesting Engineering. “Together, they conducted a series of experiments with student volunteers which provides support for the contention that the Internet has an effect on our memory.”
Although exacerbated by the Intenet, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. I make a grocery list before going to the store. As a student, I took notes in class. As a librarian of a certain age, I even used a physical card catalog to locate library materials. Pencils, notebooks, card catalogs, books – these are all technologies that have long enabled us to record information so that we don’t have to have perfect recall.
Interesting stuff. Check out the article for a further exploration of this phenomenon going all the way back to the ancient Greeks.