Our increasing reliance on the Internet to answer virtually any question has handicapped our ability to remember the simplest of facts.
If you often fail to remember information that would otherwise be readily available via a quick Google search, then you may be part of a growing population that relies on what is now called “transactive” memory. This type of memory leads to the tendency to rely on family, friends, co-workers, and reference materials (including and especially the Internet) to recall and store information for you.
According to Dr. Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University, and Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the widespread use of search engines and online databases has affected the way people remember information. From the abstract of their study:
The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.
While the direct effect of the Internet on human memory has yet to be thoroughly explored, Dr. Sparrow believes that the Internet has become our “primary external storage system,” adding that “human memory is now adapting to communications technology.