A group of scientists, led by Betsy Sparrow (assistant professor of psychology at Colombia), have recently connected the increased use of the internet with how people remember information.
Dr. Sparrow, Jenny Liu (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Daniel M. Wegner (Harvard) used four memory tests to see whether participants were more or less likely to remember information that they could simply find on a computer. One experiment had people try to remember information that they expected to later have online access to. They were given trivia facts like “The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas in Feb. 2003” and half believed the information would be later accessible on the computer while the half did not. This experiment showed that the subjects were much more likely to remember the information if they thought they wouldn’t be able to access it later.
Other experiments included saving the trivia questions to certain folders on a computer and seeing if the participants remembered the question or saved location better. Shockingly, the people remembered the saved folder location much better than the original statement. The researchers concluded that “when people expect information to remain continuously available (such as we expect with Internet access), we are more likely to remember where to find it than we are to remember the details of the item”.
This study suggests what many have already speculated: we are now more dependent on internet connectivity than ever before. Whether this turns out to be a boon for society or a growing barrier has yet to be seen so we’ll just have to wait and see.
 Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, Daniel M. Wegner, “Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips”, July 14, 2011, http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/science.1207745.full.pdf