The Shocking Impact Of The Internet On Memory

Nowadays, there is only one answer for anything, “Google.” From searching for a difficult word to searching shops near us. We all head to the first search engine that is Google. Just like a mobile phone, it has become a part of our life. In today’s world, the internet has become rather a necessity. Everything has become online, and there is no need to go out for anything. But did you know that the internet is affecting our brains in many ways?

What research says about the impact of the internet on memory

The search engine has changed the way we use the internet; it has vast sources of information just a few clicks away. However, Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Wegner’s recent research proves that websites, and the internet, are changing much more than the technology itself. They are changing the way our brain and memory function.” Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips” is Wegner’s latest study which shows that when people have access to search engines, they remember lesser facts and information because they know they can rely on “search” as a readily available shortcut.

Wegner believes that the internet has become a part of a transactive memory source, which is a method of the brain to compartmentalize information. Wegner’s first hypothesis in 1985 states that transactive memory exists in many forms; for example, a husband relies on his spouse to remember a family member’s birthday. He stated that in this whole network of memory, one has to only remember the one who knows the required information rather than the information itself. 

Our habits have been replaced by technologies and apps; for example, cell phones have become the storage vault for phone numbers, while GPS has replaced the need to memorize directions. Wegner says since the introduction of the internet and search engines, there has been no need to stretch our memory to remember the name of an obscure movie or the vice president of any state. Instead, all we need to do is go to Google and type our questions, and then we will be loaded with the complete information about the question. According to Wegner, in today’s world, we have all become a part of the internet and have ended up trusting it.

Wegner wondered whether the way students remember the facts they believe will be on the test. It’s possible that people are more likely to be able to remember information that can be retrieved easily from a computer. 

Are we completely dependent on technology?

Betsy Sparrow, assistant professor of psychology at Columbia, and Jenny Liu, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, conducted four experiments along with Wegner. In the first experiment, the participants were given a difficult set of trivia questions where it was seen that many mobbed to search engines like “Yahoo” or “Google” for answers. In the next two experiments, the participants were asked to type a collection of readily available memorable statements like, “An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.”

Wegner made two groups, from which one was informed that their work would be saved on a computer, and the other group was informed that their work would be erased. After the experiments, the results revealed that the people who were informed that their work would be erased were more likely to remember the statements.

The participants of the fourth experiment were given some statements to type on a computer that would be saved in specific folders, after which they were asked to recall the statements, but many failed. The participants were then given cues to the wording and were asked to name the folders. At the end of the conducted experiment, it was noted that the participants remembered the name of the folders and their locations better than the statements themselves. 

Wegner concedes that even after this many experiments, it’s quite difficult to determine whether tools like computers harm our logical thinking or not. He says that for some students, it is trouble remembering some facts in critical thinking, but the situation isn’t a disadvantage because of likening dependence on computers/phones to dependence on a mechanical hand. He also says that even if we’re not using our memory to remember the facts but we surely use it to remember where they are stored.


Though the very common effects of the internet on a person’s memory are mental, wherein he loses his quality of life and feels insecure about his privacy, it also makes a person distanced from his close ones. Nevertheless, we all know it has become a crucial part of our lives; it’s quite difficult to stop using it.

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