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Is the Internet Stealing Your Memory?

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Quick – what’s your best friend’s phone number? Can’t recall it? You’re not alone.

We don’t memorize these days – we search. How many conversations have you had that involved someone looking up something on their phone? You’re discussing a movie and can’t remember the actor’s name. You’re talking about your favorite restaurant and can’t think of the name of their signature dish. In seconds, you or your friend have an image of Chris Hemsworth or a picture of Luigi’s Lasagna displayed on your screen.

Is this a good thing?

The Internet puts everything we need at our fingertips, but is it removing everything we need from our brains? Are we losing the ability to “Google” our own memory banks? As we become more and more reliant on technology to collect, store and retrieve data, we might be losing the ability to do this for ourselves.

Your Brain Online

Recent research has revealed intriguing results. Digging into the topic of how the Internet affects our brains, researchers found that this activity does indeed reshape our minds. One UCLA study involved scanning the brains of those conducting Google searches. They found that those who perform Internet searches have heightened activity in more parts of their brain, especially the prefrontal cortex. They also discovered that “even a little Internet usage changes the neural pathways of your brain.”

This has both benefits and drawbacks. On the plus side, web surfing engages many brain functions, so it may be helpful to keep seniors’ minds sharp. On the downside, it can inhibit learning. Reading information online keeps our brains in constant flux. (Should I click on this text? What’s this ad all about?) Our thought process is constantly interrupted with these miniscule decisions. While we can make them almost instantaneously, they still take a toll on our focus. We aren’t able to lose ourselves in the text. As a result, the information does not “soak in.” It rarely becomes stored knowledge.

When we frequently use the Internet instead of our own storehouse, we are mindlessly consuming data. We pull sporadically from sources, which, in turn, sporadically activates the brain. Researchers note: “We don’t assimilate the information in a rich and meaningful way, creating fewer connections between our other memories.”

Who Needs Memory When You Have RAM?

Some argue that it doesn’t matter. If we can find what we need to know, who cares where we get the info, right? Maybe storing less unnecessary facts and figures will free up our minds to do other things. Researchers say this isn’t the case. In fact, they tell us our creativity relies on long-term capabilities and our intelligence is founded on summoning long-term memory. Constant Internet searches diminish our focus and weaken our aptitude.

Still, researchers did find that those who got their answers from Google produced more accurate responses and got their answers faster. (They didn’t “waste” time trying to summon their own memory.)

So, it’s up to you to decide how to engage your brain. Do you go for heightened activity or long-term storage? Read a book or read an online article? Force yourself to memorize that number or save it in your phone?

If you’re in a hurry, it seems the Internet is the way to go. Just keep this in mind; you may get faster answers, but don’t expect to remember them later.

 

 

Image Courtesy of iStock

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