Socrates notably feared that writing would destroy the ability to hold things in memory, and it certainly did. Who today memorizes epic verse or a list of (male) ancestors going back dozens of generations? As I believe Einstein said, why memorize an equation when you can easily look it up? Certainly the advent of Google, Wikipedia, etc., changes potential strategies for learning, perhaps in profound ways we can only guess at crudely. 


On Aug 13, 2011, at 10:19 AM, Michael Balter <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I agree with Eric, and posted this for discussion. The ability to store information (and symbolic expression) externally was probably one of the major advances in the evolution of human cognition. A key tome on this is Merlin Donald's book "Origins of the Modern Mind".


On Sat, Aug 13, 2011 at 7:07 PM, Eric Entemann <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
I find the stated conclusions to be extremely dubious, since they contrast so sharply with my personal experience.  I think the easy access to information is one of the greatest boons of the "computer age", and indeed find that looking up information combined with the ease with which one can follow hyperlinks to go into greater depth is a fabulous aid toward deeper understanding, and, of course, greater retention of the basic factual information.

Date: Sat, 13 Aug 2011 12:36:52 +0000
From: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Google Effects on Memory
To: [log in to unmask]


Sent to you by Michael via Google Reader:


A new article entitled "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips" by Sparrow, Liu & Wegner should be of interest to scholars interested in the effect of culture on cognition. It documents the effect of having access to online ressources of information on the way in which people look for answers (Exp. 1), remember things (Exp. 2), remember where to find information (Exp. 3) and whether they are more likely to memorize where to find some information rather than the information itself (Exp. 4).
Abstract: "The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. 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."


Things you can do from here:


Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."
                                                  --John Kenneth Galbraith