Google vs. memory

Sasha Magill recently wrote in The Guardian about the effect of Google on memory. The basic theory is that being able to Google stuff is bad for your memory.

There are several challenges associated with using Google to find information:
– distinguishing good sources from bad
– finding the important stuff among a large pool of information
– making connections between bits of information

Sound familiar? Having spent several years doing a history degree, they certainly do to me. They’re the core skills you use in studying history.

(Image from eyelevelpasadena.com)

It would be difficult to argue that remembering lots of names and dates is a core skill. Yet that is a large part of studying history, especially when one is assessed by examination.

Each exam question demands an answer in which the student connects names, dates and scholarly opinions to create a coherent response. Remembering names, dates and scholarly opinions is critical in exams because one needs to be able to select from a large pool of material in order to be able to construct an argument.

Using Google as the entry point to a massive database of information allows students to spending less time searching for and memorising basic information, and more time doing the challenging, intellectual stuff:
– distinguishing good sources from bad
– finding the important stuff among a large pool of information
– making connections between bits of information

Those who would resist this change, or deny its positive effects, are fighting a losing battle – the internet is not going to go away, and this is in any case how younger generations access information most of the time already.

Moreover, I would argue that this is a battle that does not need to be fought. From a young age, people today learn the core skills of historical study innately. Every day, many times a day, they are assessing the veracity of sources, selecting the most valuable information, and combining it to create narratives.

That can only be a good thing for the health of historical study. It might even mean that the historians of the future are much more skilled than the historians of the past.

Author: toddmgreen

I really like making internet projects. I work on apps, games and websites at a TV company. I write stuff, make stuff, and accidentally break stuff. You should probably follow me on Twitter - @toddmgreen.

What do you think?