Few of us really remember phone numbers or birthdays of our closest kith and kin. We keep all necessary information on our computers and rely on them for everything. Also, the Internet teaches us to glance through the headlines and analyze the information promptly and without concentrating on it. Scientists claim that the constant use of the Internet resources prevents us from thinking logically, and also worsen our memory. In other words, Internet and computers change our intellect.
We are living under the “Google effect”. This theory says that we give your memories to the Internet outsourcing in full confidence that the answers to any questions are just a couple of mouse clicks. The more intensive and longer we use the Internet in search of useful information, the more we lose the ability to think deeply and clearly. We acquire the skill of fast and constant viewing of the necessary web pages, but our intellectual activity becomes more superficial. Nicholas Carr, an American writer and expert in the field of cybernetic information, became famous for his article “Does Google Make Us Stupid?” and also for his book “The Glass Cage – Automation and Us.” In the latter book, he described the scientific examinations of the impact of automation on the humanity, trying to understand what are the consequences of the human dependence on computers and their software. According to the studies of neurosurgeons who monitored the brains or examined Internet users, it became clear that at that time two areas were active: those that are responsible for short-term memory and the quick decision-making center. In fact, deep zones of our brain are not involved in the detailed analysis of the information acquired, as well as in the logical building of our suggestions.
Carr also describes the research conducted in 2004. Its participants were subdivided into two groups and were offered to play a logical computer game. The task of the puzzle was to figure out how to transport five missionaries and five cannibals across the river by boat, considering that only three people can be in the boat. Clearly, the cannibals did not have to outnumber the missionaries both on the shore and on the boat. The first group used a sophisticated program that offered clues and various options to follow the given scenarios. The second group used a simple program that almost did not help the players. At first, in the group that used the complex program, the process went faster, but eventually, it turned out that those who used the simple program did less wrong moves and solved the puzzle more effectively. Psychologists who conducted the study came to the conclusion that those who did not receive help from the computer program demonstrated a deeper understanding of the game and its strategy. That is, according to experts, people who prefer to give the solution of the problem at the mercy of the Internet, become more impulsive and lose the ability to think deeply. In other words, they slowly but surely lose their intellectual abilities.
Software Instead of Brains
To understand how much the technology affects our brain, we do not need to go far: schoolchildren and students are good examples. Technologies that are used in the learning process should release students from routine activities so that they can think about more interesting and amazing issues. But in the end, it turns out that their constant use of computers reduces their cognitive abilities and does not strengthen their memories. For example, psychologists studying the processes of the memory formation found that the act of generating a word in the mind makes it possible to develop the ability to memorize. When the computer automatically corrects a speech error or offers a pop-up menu with options, we find ourselves unable to remember the correct word.
The new technologies do not contribute to the quality of work in the professional activity too. Medics began to rely so much on medical devices that without them they can’t any longer determine elementary symptoms of patients’ diseases. Carr also tells about architects who forgot how to draw without the specific software. He cites several really frightening examples: the pilots of commercial airlines are not able to perform the simplest calculations of the course in emergency situations because they usually relied entirely on the airplane devices. As an another proof, Carr cites the example with hunters in Canada. Past generations of hunters were able to accurately track down reindeer in the tundra, feeling subtle changes in the wind, studying the traces and knowing the habits of animals. When the younger generation of hunters began to use snowmobiles and GPS, all these skills were lost. They began to trust the navigators so much that they used to ignore the obvious dangers, like the thin ice or precipices. And if the GPS is broken or the batteries run down, young hunters become vulnerable and defenseless without developing traditional skills.
In the essay “Does Google Make Us Stupid?” Nicholas Carr writes about even more unpleasant consequences of universal automation and Internetization. The Internet teaches a person to find and consume information as quickly as possible, but at the same time, a person loses the ability to concentrate.
Carr notes that before he easily immersed himself in reading the book, but now his attention begins to dissipate after two or three pages. He feels how difficult is to force his brain to return to the text without losing the thread of the narrative. The Internet taught us to skim through the headlines, watch videos and listen to podcasts, but at the same time, we began to think randomly, to perceive information hastily and superficially.
Carr believes that our brains are different from hard drives or refrigerators, which can be so overloaded that there will not be enough available space left. Although the information on the Internet is not always reliable, you can find everything on the net. This gives a tremendous power to people who store our data. Because of new technologies, we think less deeply, become multitasking and incapable of perceiving long speeches and even songs, constantly scrolling menus on the phone. We must think in many ways and broadly. We must use our ingenuity. We do not need to learn the facts and their memorization is not so important. We know that we remember only what we pay attention to. If we constantly are browsing in social networks or learn life through the camera of the smartphone, we can miss important impressions and not save them in our long-term memory. The constant search of information on the Internet is an ineffective way of creating stable memories. To fix the information better, we should sometimes lean back in your armchair and refresh in our memory all that we learned or experienced before.
The study showed an interesting fact: when participants of the experiments were asked difficult questions, they began to think about computers. According to the author of this study, Dr. Betsy Sparrow from Columbia University, the Internet became a kind of the transactional memory. So, in addition to the person’s own memory, there are original “external storages” in other people. There are people who are experts in certain fields, and we allow them to remain their knowledge, making them responsible for a certain information. The things that we find online, we try to store online, that is, in an external source. The ability to remember the place where the necessary information is located, and not itself, is a sign that people’s memory became worse, we just differently organize a huge amount of available information now. Dr. Sparrow, arguing with the opinion that Google is making us stupid, makes a summary that Google isn’t harmful to our brains, we just change the way to memorize things. If we can find something online, even when we are walking down the street, then it becomes important to know exactly where to look for this information.
A recent study showed that 90% of us suffer from digital amnesia – we don’t want to remember important numbers of phones and dates. Although those of us who grew up in the era of cell phones, perhaps, can recall the home numbers of our friends, now we hardly keep in mind the numbers of their mobile phones, because our smartphones do this for us. Scientists believe that we do not store information in our memory because of the “Google effect”. That is, we are happy to use the worldwide network to increase our memory capacity.
This applies even to amateur photographers. According to a study conducted in 2003 at the Fairfield University, it was found that photographing worsens memory. The participants of the study were asked to walk around the museum, and those who photographed each exhibit remembered fewer objects of the exhibition and their details than those who simply watched. Dr. Wimber concludes that we can assume that this applies to our personal memories, because constantly looking at the world through the lens of the camera in our smartphone, we can, in the end, entrust the duty to store our memories to our phones. So, we pay less attention to the outside world and we don’t remember events from our own lives.
However, do we become stupid from this? Many experts don’t think so, believing that new technologies help us live smarter, because we have access to answers. The ability to ask a well-formulated question is a sign of intelligence because to do this, we need to quickly determine what information we need and which application can help find it. This assumes an another way of interacting with the world, not connected with stupidity in any way.