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The Effects of Google Brain on the Boomer Brain



In 2015 I wrote a blog – Google Brain. It caught my eye as I was searching through my blog archives. This article looked at the beginnings of a phenomenon known as Google Brain. The focus of this article looked at the decline in the speed of processing of the brain as we got older and the difficulty in keeping up with an overload of information that we can find on Google. That premise is still true. We are overloaded with information all the time. The technology of search engines, social media and email have taken over much of our memory capacity. We no longer have to remember phone numbers, addresses, birthdays or anything else we have saved for easy retrieval. Sandi Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas, states that the offloading of this type of information is not bad in itself, but it is the rewiring of the brain to rely on instant access that is troubling. “We are chipping away at our ability to think deep thoughts, innovate, and take time to smell the coffee” says Chapman.


Research Studies

Imaging studies show how we grown increasingly reliant on internet searches such as Google. With that known, psychology research is giving us insight on how modern technologies is affecting our memories. Dr. Betsy Sparrow, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Columbia University believes that the widespread access to information has not only changed what we remember – it has changed how we remember. Sparrow recently published a study she oversaw that demonstrates how our brains have adapted to technology. Researchers tested how well study participants would remember information that they expect to have later access to – by knowing that they could find that information online. Study participants were given 40 pieces of interesting trivia. Some of the trivia was completely new and others were facts that the participants would generally know. The participants typed the facts into the computer. Half were told that the computer would keep the information and the other half were told the information would be erased.

After reading and typing the phrases, all participants were told to write down as many as they remembered. Participants were more likely to remember the information if they believed they would not have access to it later.

A second study reinforced this finding. In this study two groups of people were asked to answer a set of trivia questions. The first group was told only to use their memory, while the other group had to look up their answers online. Both groups were then asked a set of easier questions and given the option of using the internet. Those who used the internet the first time were more likely to do so again. Not only were they more likely to refer to the internet, they were quicker to do so. They made little effort to answer the questions themselves, even when the questions were relatively easy.

Researchers refer to this as cognitive offloading. Using the internet has become so available and easy that we have given up trying to remember certain things. “Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives,” Benjamin Storm, the study’s lead author, said.

These studies show that the internet isn’t just making our lives easier, it is actually changing our brains. Dr. Michael Merzenich, Chief Science Officer of Posit Science, and one of the researchers of neuroplasticity, states that our brain is made to change. “Your brain – every brain – is a work in progress. It is plastic.

From the day we’re born to the day we die, it continuously revises and remodels, improving or slowly declining, as a function of how we use it.”


Opinions about the Effects of the Internet on the Brain

There are two schools of thought over cognitive offloading and brain function. Opinion on the positive side of this discussion argue that by removing

the need for rote learning, the internet has helped free up cognitive resources for other more important things.

The negative comes in saying that by relying on the internet as an external hard drive for our memory, we are losing the ability to transfer the facts we hear and read on a daily basis from our working memory to our long-term one – something that Nicholas Carr, author of ‘What the internet is doing to our brains’, describes as an “essential to the creation of knowledge and wisdom”. Supported by dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists and educators who point to the same conclusion: “when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning,” Carr writes.


The Internet Has Rewired Our Brains

The internet has not just served as a place for information and entertainment, it has essentially rewired our brains. Here are 15 Big Ways the Internet Is Changing Our Brain: I found this information in a Google search on the internet!?!

· The Internet Is Our External Hard Drive

o We don’t have to remember phone numbers or addresses anymore. We can just jump on our email or Google to look it up.

o According to a study by Science Magazine, “the internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves,” and our brains have become reliant on the availability of the information.

· Children Are Learning Differently

o With online libraries, rote memorization is no longer a necessary part of education” according to Read Write Web. Educators are beginning to understand that information is now coming at us through a fire hose, quicker and faster than we can digest it, and memorizing facts wastes valuable brain power that could be used to keep up with more important information that can’t be quickly Googled.

· We Hardly Ever Give Tasks Our Full Attention

o Have you ever updated your Facebook while listening to music or texting a friend? You have experienced the phenomenon of continuous partial attention and its impact on your brain. It remains to be seen if partial attention is a distraction as most believe, or an adaptation of the brain to the constant flow of stimuli.

· We Don’t Bother to Remember

o The study that I referenced earlier about trivia information being erased or saved demonstrated that the group that believed that their data would be saved were less likely to remember.

o This study indicates that people have lower rates of recall when they can expect to be able to access information in the future.

· We’re Getting Better at Finding Information

o It seems that the brainpower previously used to retain facts and information is now being used to remember how to look it up.

o We remember less through knowing information itself than by knowing where the information can be found.

· Difficult Questions Make Us Think About Computers

o When faced with a difficult question, people rarely consider the encyclopedia or history books, but rather, think about computers. It is a brand new impulse that exists in our brains.

· IQ Is Increasing Over Time

o After MTV, after video games, after Twitter, Facebook, and Google, we’re getting smarter. Are we smarter because of technology, or on spite of it?

· Our Concentration Is Suffering

o Your time online is often spent scanning headlines and posts and quickly surfing links, never much time on any one thing.

· We Are Getting Better At Determining Relevance

o It’s up to us as readers and consumers of information to determine what’s relevant and reliable, and with so much practice, our brains are getting better at this task every day.

· We’re Becoming Physically Addicted to Technology

o Even after unplugging, many internet users feel a craving for the stimulation received from gadgets.

o The culprit is dopamine, which is delivered as a response to the stimulation.

· The More You Use the Internet, the More It Lights Up Your Brain

o Dr. Gary Small discovered that experienced surfers showed much more activity than novice users, especially in the areas typically devoted to decisions and problem-solving.

o Through his study, Small noted that over time, internet use changes neural pathways.

· Our Brains Constantly Seek Our Incoming Information

o Tests at Stanford indicate that multitaskers, such as heavy internet users often tend to overlook older valuable information, instead choosing to seek out new information.

o Instead of focusing on important tasks, or putting information to good use, we’re distracted by incoming mail.

· We’ve Become Power Browsers

o Online browsing has created a new form of reading, in which users aren’t really reading online, but rather browsing through sites.

o Instead of left to right, up to down reading, we seem to scan through titles, bullet points, and information that stands out.

o Comprehension and attention are certainly at risk here.

· Online Thinking Persists Even Offline

o When you are online, you are frequently attacked by bursts of information, which is highly stimulating and even overwhelming

o Too much, and you can become extremely distracted and unfocused.

o Even after you log off, your brain remains rewired

o A lack of focus and fractured thinking can persist, interrupting work, family and offline time.

· Creative Thinking May Suffer

o Some neuroscientists believe that memorization is critical to creativity.

o William Klemm, a neuroscience professor at Texas A&M University insists that ‘Creativity comes from a mind that knows, and remembers, a lot.’ (www.onlinecollege.org)

There is no doubt that we all suffer from Google Brain in some respect. We have been gorging ourselves with information for over a decade now. In 1998, Google’s first year in existence, the site saw 9,800 searches per day on average. By 2014, that number had climbed to 5.7 billion searches per day. We have smartphones and tablets and access is easy and immediate. With the entry of AI into the consumer market – we might never have to know anything ever again! We can ask Alexa, or Siri or any other AI device anything we want and we will usually get an answer. We don’t even have to browse anymore. This technology will have another major impact on our brains. What’s Next?


References:

15 Big Ways the Internet Is Changing Our Brain. Retrieved April 4, 2018 from http://www.onlinecollege.org/15-big-ways-the-internet-is-changing-our-brain/


Hall, C. (November 17,2015). Is your brain being googled to death? The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved December 3, 2015 from http://www.dallasnews.com/business/columnists/cheryl-hall/20151117-is-your-brain-being-googled-to-death.ece


Milfred,J. (May 11, 2013). Is google ruining your memory? The science of memory in the digital age. Retrieved April 4, 2018 from http://www.yalescientific.org/2013/05/is-google-ruining-your-memory-the-science-of-memory-in-the-digital-age/


Thomson,S. (October 6, 2016). Scientists say google is changing our brains. Retrieved April 4, 2018 from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/how-google-is-changing-our-brains/


Sobel Fitts, A. (January 4, 2017). How google is changing the way we think. Huffpost. Retrieved April 4, 2018 from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/google-cjanges-thinking_us_55dc8069e4b04ae497046fa6

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