how to deal with digital amnesia

In line at the cinema, I take a quick glance at the clock. The man behind me notices this and asks what time it is. I look at him in unexpected confusion. In the two seconds since I looked at my watch, I somehow forgot what time it was. I have to take another look at the wrist, and only then can I answer the question. Half past five, and yes, that means we both miss the beginning of the movie.

Sound familiar? Can you remember the times when you were looking for a fact, but almost instantly forgot the information you received? If so, you may be a victim of the Google Effect. Psychologist Eva Krokov figured out why we can’t remember easily accessible information

Google effect

The Google Effect describes a curious phenomenon in which people’s memory is less receptive to information that is readily available than information that requires more effort. The effect was named after search engines that make it easier to access a wide range of data.

Examples of such “simple” information include:

  • Facts available in online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia

  • News headlines displayed in mobile apps

  • Phone numbers that are stored in electronic notebooks

  • Dates and birthdays stored in online calendars

  • Vocabulary available through online dictionaries.

Scientific evidence for the Google effect has been provided by a series of studies. In one experiment, participants were asked to read and type 40 common facts, such as “the eye of an ostrich is bigger than its brain” (Did you know that ?! It blew my mind!). At the same time, half of the participants were told that all the facts would be saved on the computer, and the other that they would be lost. All participants subsequently passed a memory test. It turned out that the second half of the participants, that is, those who were advised not to rely on a computer to save information, outperformed the rest. Obviously, the first half of the participants did not feel the need to memorize these little things, because they were sure that they could be opened at any time, if necessary.

Does the Google effect make your life experience worse?

In many ways, the Google effect is an adaptive mechanism that prevents the brain from piling up unnecessary information. After all, why would you want to memorize complex facts, numbers, or birthdays when you can rely on a reliable phone or computer instead? Does the Google Effect help prioritize information that is really worth remembering? Some scientists agree and stress that we are evolving to be more efficient in our computerized environment. Others, however, point to different risks associated with our over-reliance on Google and similar technologies.

Risk 1. Addiction. A prerequisite for the use of technical means of memory is the constant availability of these means. Hence, people feel the need to keep their gadgets on all the time. Feelings of “attachment” contribute to stress and anxiety. In addition, technology addiction has other unexpected side effects. Some people rely so much on gadgets that inevitable software glitches can destroy information and knowledge that cannot be recovered over many years. Others store sensitive data or secret passwords on their computers without realizing the general risks associated with network security.

Risk 2. Missing a meaningful life experience. Another risk relates to the potential for the Google Effect to reduce quality of life. A cursory glance at online information can lead people to miss out on the details that lie in the thick of the text.

What’s more, recent research has shown that the Google effect also works for images. Participants in the study went on a tour of the museum. They were divided into two groups: the first was asked to photograph all the museum exhibits, and the second group walked around the museum, unable to record their experience. After that, both groups were tested about the museum exhibits seen during the tour. The group with digital memories in the form of photographs remembered significantly less detail than the group without cameras. Thus, it is likely that the use of photographs to preserve memory affects people’s perception of the world around them.

Overcoming the Google Effect

Given the risks associated with how heavily we rely on easily accessible information, you may feel the need to cope with the Google effect and reduce your dependence. Three simple strategies will improve memory in the modern age of technology.

  • Seek Information Consciously: Actively trying to turn off the “autopilot” and make a conscious effort when looking for new information is of great importance for improving memory. This strategy is related to the concept of mindfulness and related yoga exercises that aim to strengthen the mental presence in the here and now. This includes paying full attention to the information you are currently processing and reducing the impact of distractions such as multitasking.

  • Take notes by hand: Another strategy is to write new information on a physical medium. No, I don’t mean to print the Wikipedia page. Instead, try taking some old-fashioned handwritten notes. The process of synthesizing information and writing words causes the mind to engage and slow down, which promotes deeper levels of processing and enhancing subsequent memory.

  • Leave your gadgets at home: One last deceptively simple tip is to reduce the use of technical devices such as phones, cameras, or computers. If technology assistants are not available, you have no choice but to retain more knowledge in your memory.

As a young mom who is obsessed with photographing and digitally documenting every moment of her daughter’s life, I better take my own advice! I need to look less into the camera lens and pay more attention to living the experience of motherhood. What about you? Is it time to rethink your approach and actively use your memory?

Translation source: editionIdeonomics“.

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