The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Business & Technology

September 26, 2013

Is Google wrecking our memory?

Excerpted from "Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better," by Clive Thompson. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright (c) Clive Thompson, 2013.

Is the Internet ruining our ability to remember facts? If you've ever lunged for your smartphone during a bar argument ("one-hit father of twerking pop star" — Billy Ray Cyrus!), then you've no doubt felt the nagging fear that your in-brain memory is slowly draining away. As even more fiendishly powerful search tools emerge — from IBM's Jeopardy!-playing Watson to the "predictive search" of Google Now — these worries are, let's face it, only going to grow.

So what's going on? Each time we reach for the mouse pad when we space out on the ingredients for a Tom Collins or the capital of Arkansas, are we losing the power to retain knowledge?

The short answer is: No. Machines aren't ruining our memory.

The longer answer: It's much, much weirder than that!

What's really happening is that we've begun to fit the machines into an age-old technique we evolved thousands of years ago — "transactive memory." That's the art of storing information in the people around us. We have begun to treat search engines, Evernote and smartphones the way we've long treated our spouses, friends and workmates. They're the handy devices we use to compensate for our feeble ability to remember details.

And frankly, our brains have always been terrible at remembering details. We're good at retaining the gist of the information we encounter. But the niggly, specific facts? Not so much. In a 1990 study, long before the Interwebs supposedly corroded our minds, the psychologist Walter Kintsch ran an experiment in which subjects read several sentences. When he tested them 40 minutes later, they could generally remember the sentences word for word. Four days later, though, they were useless at recalling the specific phrasing of the sentences — but still very good at describing the meaning of them.

Text Only
Business & Technology
  • Earns United Continental [Duplicate] United Airlines posts 2Q profit, reversing 1Q loss CHICAGO (AP) — United Airlines is making money after a slow start to the year.The airline’s net income in the second quarter hit $789 million, topping Wall Street expectations and marking a turnaround from the first quarter when United was the only m

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • GM profit 2Q falls 85% on recall costs DETROIT (AP) — Recall expenses chopped $1.5 billion from General Motors’ bottom line in the second quarter, as it added up the costs of repairs for nearly 30 million cars and set aside funds to compensate victims of small-car crashes.The automaker, w

    July 25, 2014

  • Taiwan plane crash photo Air travel a leap of faith for passengers WASHINGTON (AP) — Airline travel requires passengers to make a leap of faith, entrusting their lives to pilots, airlines, air traffic controllers and others who regulate air travel.Even after a week of multiple tragedies in worldwide aviation, “There

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Technology plays key part in battling police brutality (with VIDEO)

    Allegations of police brutality are nothing new -- as long as there has been law enforcement, citizens have registered claims that some officers cross the line. But in the last few years, the claims of excessive force are being corroborated with new technology from cell phone cameras, police dash-cams and surveillance videos. 

    July 24, 2014

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • Has the iPad lost its swag?

    The company reported this week that sales of its sleek, pricey tablet were down 19 percent from last quarter and 9 percent year-over-year.

    CEO Tim Cook tried to reassure investors that Apple's new partnership with IBM to sell its devices to IBM's corporate customers will help make iPads ubiquitous in the workplace.

    July 24, 2014

  • Stewart McCaskill photo McCaskill settles into new role at shoe store CLINTON — An Oklahoma boy at heart, Stewart McCaskill is settling into Clinton and Brown’s Shoe Fit.The 35-year-old has worked with the Brown’s Shoe Fit company for seven years. His brother-in-law, who manages a Brown’s in Colorado, brought Stewart i

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Earns Mcdonalds [Duplicate] McDonald's profit slips; U.S. sales decline OAK BROOK, Ill. (AP) — McDonald’s Corp. said its profit slipped in the second quarter as sales in the U.S. continued to flag.The world’s biggest hamburger chain has been struggling to boost sales in its flagship market amid intensifying competition,

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • SEC poised to end $1 a share for some money funds WASHINGTON (AP) — Regulators are expected to vote Wednesday to end a longtime staple of the investment industry — the fixed $1 share price for money-market mutual funds — at least for some money funds used by big investors.The idea is to minimize the

    July 23, 2014

  • China McDonald's KFC [Duplicate] China meat scandal hits Starbucks, Burger King BEIJING — A suspect meat scandal in China engulfed Starbucks and Burger King today and spread to Japan where McDonald’s said the Chinese supplier accused of selling expired beef and chicken had provided 20 percent of the meat in its chicken nuggets.C

    July 22, 2014 5 Photos

Facebook