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Internet Use Found To Affect Memory

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-wonder-if-internet-use-affects-memory dept.

Medicine 207

An anonymous reader writes "The rise of Internet search engines has changed the way our brain remembers information, according to a new study out of Columbia University (abstract). 'We are reorganizing the way we remember things,' said the study's lead researcher. Because search engines like Google and Bing are so easily at hand, we feel less need to remember details that can be easily looked up. One possible upside: 'Perhaps those who teach in any context, be they college professors, doctors or business leaders, will become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorization. And perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding.'"

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From the department of... (3, Interesting)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778710)

explaining the gory details of what we already know? Ok maybe for a general audience this is news, but for any tech minded person, I imagine this was already well understood.

I learnt to program before I had access to the internet, on a Dragon32 (TRS-80 clone), from one source of information: a single book. I remember re-reading a paragraph many many times over to squeeze a little more understanding out of it). I can _still_ remember the specific memory address you had to poke to squeeze a little extra performance out of the processor.

Now days (and I think we all know this or at least relate to it), I have the stuff I use frequently memorized, and anything else I relegate to “stuff I can just look up”.

Would also note that it isn’t just the internet (at least for programming). Auto-complete and intuitive naming also plays a big part in the lack of need to memorize stuff.

Re:From the department of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778882)

You have the problem nailed.

It's not the information's fault for being trivial (or non-memorable), it's the Search Engine's (Library Card Catalog's) fault for breaking links (or ranking them #14,456,327).

If you "know where to look something up" then you know it provided you've Bookmarked it. If you can't find it again, you don't know it, and you can never be sure, from nanosecond to nanosecond if your search will be successful.

Supplements to improve memory (3, Interesting)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778988)

Last summer I found a little herb shop in Phoenix, Arizona. One of their custom loose-leaf tea blends was called An Elephant Never Forgets [] . My memory had been rather fickle [] , ever since I lost it entirely for a 2-week period after I nearly drowned at the lake, some 12 years before. The lack of consistency was rather annoying, but only when I realized that there was something I couldn't quite remember.

I bought an ounce of said tea, and immediately noticed a dramatic improvement in my ability to remember. I don't take it all the time, or even regularly, but I did happen to see the bag this morning. Funny how that works.

Here are the ingredients from the above link, to save you all a click:

Mental focus formula
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – increases circulation to brain, increases cerebral function
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) – nerve and brain tonic
Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) – antioxidant, supports cerebral function
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) – increases memory and overall performance
Sage (Salvia officinalis) – antioxidant, supports cerebral function
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) – increases circulation, flavor
Cardamom (Eletteria cardomomum) – increases circulation
Calendula Petals (Calendula officinalis) – encourages lymphatic circulation

Additional Information
This formula is great for those who wish to be mentally alert without using caffeine. A very popular tea among students, but excellent for anyone wishing to support focus, concentration and memory.

Huperzine-A, from the moss, also has potent memory-improving properties.

There are a lot of other important factors to memory improvement... I should look for a publisher. :)

Re:Supplements to improve memory (1)

JonySuede (1908576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779048)

you Slashdoted them

Re:Supplements to improve memory (2)

PrescriptionWarning (932687) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779050)

Pretty sure you were just sold snake oil, you know like those multivitamins that claim to increase your penis size...

Re:Supplements to improve memory (4, Interesting)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779526)

Heh... Actually...

Gotu Kola has been shown to pretty much be one of the highest natural sources of B1, B2, and B6 vitamins- which would be brain/memory boosting.

Ginko's been claimed to be memory loss/dementia preventing. Mixed bag there on the research (some research indicating so, some not...)- but they DO know it has an impact on healthy individuals by boosting attentiveness considerably through it's ability to inhibit norepinephrine uptake. I'd say it'd help in remembering things because of that aspect.

Not sure about the other herbals in the tea, but Firmoss happens to supply a known fairly potent nootropic. Research has shown that it's roughly as effective at dealing with Alzheimers as the current drugs on the market with quite a bit less side effects. Other research on the nootropic aspects are currently ongoing but they're in the process of producing a highly refined and concentrated version of this substance to treat Alzheimers right at the moment.

So...saying that they were just sold snake oil...not as such. Where do you think asprin came from? It was by researching the effect of salicylic acid and trying to find a "better" answer for the stuff that already largely worked- from plant extracts, much like this herbal medicine you're calling "snake oil". Yes, much of this stuff is that- but to dismiss it like you did is to ignore where your medicines at least initially came from.

Re:Supplements to improve memory (3, Insightful)

gomiam (587421) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779054)

You missed an ingredient: placebo ;)

Slashdot Bias shows through (1)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779296)

I suppose that you didn't hear about the recent studies that found Big Pharma's anti-depressants are no better than placebo.

If it's not sold by MegaCorp Pharmaceuticals it's no good, right?

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779356)

Cite them, or admit that they don't exist.

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (2)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779572)

I assume you are referring to the studies that show anti-depressants are no better than placebo. This was discussed here some time back: [] links to []

hth, HAND.

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (1)

gomiam (587421) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779706)

Quoting the second link's conclusions:

Drug-placebo differences in antidepressant efficacy increase as a function of baseline severity, but are relatively small even for severely depressed patients. The relationship between initial severity and antidepressant efficacy is attributable to decreased responsiveness to placebo among very severely depressed patients, rather than to increased responsiveness to medication.

So perhaps the antidepressant doesn't work as well as it was thought... or the placebo works much better when the brain is more able to believe in it.

Re:Anti-Depressants (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779784)

Depression is one of the most elusive complicated states.

Without scrutinizing those studies for the sake of a simple slashdot post, those studies are not the same as "anti-depressants do nothing at all". The slippery word here is "better".

Part of the horrific downside to Big Pharma anti-depressants SSRI-class is they are not "modular", aka you can't just take take some for a week to get past a slump. They take some two weeks to properly kick in past initial gyro-ing, and another 2 weeks on the back end if you want to quit.

So a placebo may actually win out by being less intrusive.

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779512)

Do you believe that this in any way counters gomiam's claim that the tea has no medical value, or are you just spouting off about your own cause because you're too stupid to follow the thread of the conversation?

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (2)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779634)

All drugs have placebo effects (even the ones that actually have physiologically useful effects), so gomiam's statement was entirely meaningless. But because of the Slashdot Bias for "Corporate Science", he gets instant +1 insightful +1 funny.

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779592)

You do realize that those are at least tested for efficacy and safety, right. Antidepressants were never intended to be a stand alone treatment for depression, they were always intended to be a part of a treatment program. So, ultimately, if they don't turn out to be any more effective than a placebo it isn't that big of a deal, as the therapy is what's supposed to make the difference in the long run.

But with this stuff, it might be dangerous, it might work, it might be safe and perhaps it doesn't work. Not to mention the possible drug interactions and counter indications which the shops don't necessarily know about.

But, I'm sure that Big Pharma is just completely evil in every way and that nobody ever benefits from their products.

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (1)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779758)

Big pharma has some good stuff... Ideally, pharmaceuticals should be used temporarily for the immediate survival of the patient. I'll even concede that some people find benefit from a short term dose of certain antidepressants

Big Pharma makes $billions for Wall Street with maintenance medications for chronic conditions. Many people are on anti-depressants or heartburn medications for years at a time. Sometimes that can't be helped (thyroid for people without a thyroid, for example), but for the most part, Medicine should be looking for the cause behind the symptom first.

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (1)

gomiam (587421) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779594)

Oh, an ad-hominem (with a sprinkle of insufficient adulation to give it taste). I think I can do that too

Ok... keep jumping to conclusions (I never talked about it being a "Big Pharma" product or not, did I?), it will help you turn an unscientific anecdote (you took it -law of small numbers- and felt better -completely non-blind experiment-) into a recommendation. Who needs research? Not you, it seems, nor, sometimes, Big Pharma.

Re:Slashdot Bias shows through (1)

jayme0227 (1558821) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779640)

I haven't been around Slashdot too much lately, but I thought that most pharmaceuticals were well-hated around here, especially the ones for over-diagnosed illnesses like depression and ADHD.

That said, I also hate the marketing schemes of "It's good because it's natural" and "It's good because it's not made by a giant pharmaceutical company." Because so many folk medicines use those gimmicks, I tend to shy away from them.

Re:Supplements to improve memory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779306)

I took something like this once, but I forgot what it was. Thanks!

Re:From the department of... (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779016)

Ha, reminds me of what my prof said about interrupts. Your going to have to memorize them for this test. Then just forget them, becuase if if you need to know one you can just google it.

Re:From the department of... (1)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779028)

tl;dr. By the time I got to the end, I forgot what you said at the begi

Nothing has changed but the ease. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779092)

Now days (and I think we all know this or at least relate to it), I have the stuff I use frequently memorized, and anything else I relegate to “stuff I can just look up”.

It was always like that. Back in the day, we had handbooks, encyclopedias, rules of thumbs and many times, we reinvented the wheel. In the old days before the net, if I had to solve a problem, I looked through books and whatnot for a solved version of the problem and if it wasn't there, I created my own solution. Now, google for an answer and just about all the time, someone has done it before - the worst you have to do is implement it in the language you're using.

The same for much of anything.

As for trivial answers, were they ever that important to begin with? If you really need the information, you'll remember it - which always has been the case.

And I think that where the study is implying is that we're developing ways of not remembering every little insignificant detail but where it's stored; thereby giving us the ability to "remember" ever more information and details. The human mind can only store so much.

Re:From the department of... (1)

nog_lorp (896553) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779234)

Hey now, not all of us experienced life pre-internet.

Re:From the department of... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779536)

Heh, I had the TRS-80 Model 1 Level 1 which I promptly upgradeded to Level I with 16K. I still remember the video range was from 3C00 to 3FFF on that baby.Before getting an assembler I used to poke machine language routines into memory. Great machine to learn on too.

Re:From the department of... (1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779558)

I also learned to program "pre-internet" (really, pre-innarwebs) in 1986 on an Atari 130 and a Sinclair ZX-81. Later, the Atari was upgraded; the Sinclair was not.

My programming book was "Basic Atari BASIC". It worked. The experience was much as you describe. I continued with that experience through Borland TurboPascal, MS QuickBASIC, and Borland C++.

However, I never became a decent and logical programmer until I gave up programming for awhile and returned to it post-internet, and learned entirely from textfile "tutorials" and other online data collections and guides. I would have to say the quality of conciseness and thoroughness offered by the average long-lived internet FAQ more is more than quadruple what you would get out of your average published tree-killer. In fact the most striking memory I have of those books was supplementing them with things they failed to include, cribbing notes into them or printing the notes out and taping them into the margins of appropriate pages.

And yet, I have no idea how you can program without memorizing a set of commands and at least most of a working syntax. But I program strictly in C, so. . . I have no idea what the wacky, OOP types are shooting up or snorting these days.

When All of TODAY's Professors are Dead (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778730)

'Perhaps those who teach in any context, be they college professors, doctors or business leaders, will become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorization.

Structure of Scientific Revolutions and whatnot.

A Smart man once said... (4, Interesting)

BagOBones (574735) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778736)

Never memorize what you can look up in books. --Albert_Einstein []

Re:A Smart man once said... (1)

stephathome (1862868) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778814)

Precisely. Just think how much had to be memorized before the printing press was invented. It's something of an ongoing process, although these days it's rather different sorts of information we need to have.

Re:A Smart man once said... (1)

AndyAndyAndyAndy (967043) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779374)

Different sorts of information, yes, but also far more advanced sorts. We will still need to memorize the basics ... language, math principles, rules of science, etc. to be able to learn at high levels.

It's a double-edged sword: being able to look up the bits of information you don't already know can be a great mental bridge-builder, but being able to recall many complex ideas at once (working in advanced physics, for example) requires one to have instant recall of many unrelated laws, theories, and bits of information to forge ahead and create new ideas. It narrows the gap between people learning and working at low and medium levels of knowledge, but too much reliance in society could stymie advanced work.

Re:A Smart man once said... (2)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778898)

Never memorize what you can look up in books. --Albert_Einstein

I'm inclined to agree. What's more valuable: Knowing how to solve problems or memorizing the solutions to a bunch of problems?

Re:A Smart man once said... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778918)

More like:

Never bother learning the Mathematics that you can expect others to learn, so that you can concentrate on being the "Ideas Man" instead and then take all of the credit for others' hard work.


Just sayin'.

Re:A Smart man once said... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779046)

So I don't have to memorize how to read?

Re:A Smart man once said... (3, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779080)

I think Einstein may have been overstating things. Some details may often be safely left in books, but a portion of the memorization I did in school has served me quite well, despite what I thought at the time. You have to build a framework of knowledge in any subject area to know what details you can look up in the first place, and having at least a foggy recollection of things you memorized at one time helps. "Is it in a book or not" is not a good standard for that.

Re:A Smart man once said... (3, Insightful)

heathen_01 (1191043) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779380)

I agree with your point. My example is the java JDK. Sure its searchable and indexed, however if you don't know you need to use a ReentrantLock it will (potentially) take a lot of searching before you realise that is what you need to use. However once you remember that you need a ReentrantLock then looking up what the constructor parameters are is invaluable.

Re:A Smart man once said... (1)

dcigary (221160) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779568)

I agree with this. It's silly to look up the fact that 2+2=4, those things can be easily memorized. But leaving the tomes and tomes of information to the books or the internet in my opinion frees you to assess the situation, have a fairly good idea of what or how you want to do, and then go look up how to do it. That's why I don't memorize Oracle manuals and database initalization parameters - if I need to correct syntax, I'll look it up, but I know vaguely what types of things are available.

Now, if I can ever figure out why my head latches on to movie quotes and pop trivia items like a rare earth magnet to an I-beam, we'll be talking. I can't get those things outta my head for nothing!

Mitch: You know, um, something strange happened to me this morning...
Chris Knight: Was it a dream where you see yourself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing little pickles at you?
Mitch: No...
Chris Knight: Why am I the only one who has that dream?

Re:A Smart man once said... (1)

Normal Dan (1053064) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779224)

Came here to post this. I've always agreed with Einstein on this one. I'm even considering building a device to link my mind directly into a computer so I can look stuff up. One day computers might be far more reliable than meat memory, so why not?

Re:A Smart man once said... (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779648)

He was not suggesting that one shouldn't memorize things, just that certain thins aren't worth memorizing. There's no good reason why anybody should need to memorize the value of Pi, e or other constants when memorizing the presence of that particular constant will suffice. You'll get shit accuracy if you try to memorize it anyways.

In general, the Internet isn't so much affecting memory as the sloth of average individuals is. I've got an astonishing memory in large part because I use it, I've practiced with it and I've developed it. I only use the internet for information I don't know or to double check what I know. But even for finding information in the first place the internet is a bad place to get it.

Re:A Smart man once said... (2)

Have Brain Will Rent (1031664) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779278)

Never memorize what you can look up in books. --Albert_Einstein

Yeah, why bother memorizing stuff like 6*6=36 when you can just look it up in a book?

Plus as an added benefit the government won't need rats in a face cage to get you to the 2+2=5 stage, they'll just change the web page to make that the new truth.

Re:A Smart man once said... (1)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779442)

I guess it should be managed like a cache, with your brain being the cache, and books being secondary storage

Used to dislike history class ... (3, Interesting)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779446)

Never memorize what you can look up in books. --Albert_Einstein []

I disliked history until I had a class in high school where a teacher went off curriculum and taught the class like a college class. No memorizing dates and such, they can be looked up in a reference, what we focused our time on was *why* that historic person made that particular decision at that time and place. What influenced or led to that decision? This is when history became interesting to me.

FWIW this was all pre-internet.

Re:A Smart man once said... (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779688)

Also as a person who never really excelled at school. The problem with a lot of schooling is the fact most of the testing is based on memorization. Math been taught by telling the kid to remember the formula vs. Trying to teach them how the formula was approached. Which is interesting because I have talked to a lot of people who Say I HATE math and I cant do it and the only math class I did well was when they actually did proofs.
Perhaps because my minor was focused in Discrete mathematics but I think understanding how math works is more important then going threw the motions to solve the answer.

and the dead-tree press covers this with: (1)

rbrausse (1319883) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778804)

Perhaps the Internet doesn't make stupid []

sigh. Die Zeit is a respected weekly paper here in Germany, but headlines like this are not really helpful...

From the ashes, tools arise (1)

kakyoin01 (2040114) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778822)

Seems to me that the internet just encourages selective memory development, and dependence on software and the internet (with a a bit of magic sprinkled in) for everything. This era is leaning more towards effective tool development, from what I've seen. This is not necessarily a bad thing; good tools usually lead to better products, and more use of the tools leads to further tool development. Some of us don't seem to need feedback to make changes to tools though (I'm looking at you, Mozilla).

Re:From the ashes, tools arise (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779660)

Right which is a common observation of students in any field. You'll find a few people that learn everything they can, but most students just want to know what's on the test. In language classes, most students just want enough of the language to get by. And the result is virtually always inferior to a more thorough learning of the subject, but people being lazy, that's what they want to learn.

Not really (1)

HalAtWork (926717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778826)

This same argument has been made time and again, but the only thing I find myself forgetting is trivia. As for facts, I used to know a lot of methods, words, etc by rote, or I my recollection would be derived from things I had heard, but now it's so easy to satisfy my curiosity from multiple sources. I know more and it is better reinforced. I do use the internet for reference, but it is not on hand every moment of the day, nor is it always opportune when it is available. Maybe if you need to look up a detail for one time and you never use it again, you'll forget that, but I don't really find myself running to a search box every five minutes because I can't remember anything anymore. Now when I don't know something, I write it down, and when I am bored I look these things up. I watch videos with closed captioning on because I can easily look up the words I am unsure about. I've been able to volunteer information more often than before, and if others can't remember something, I've been able to fill in the gaps. But I really can't say I find myself forgetting anything.

Re:Not really (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779276)

It's trivia that I tend to forget...that and numbers. But then, I had problems with the numbers anyhow. :-D

The trivia, I seem to still be doing okay, but it's hazier- I have to resort to Googling it occasionally with my phone or other computer to verify my recollections.

Re:Not really (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779680)

There's a reason for that. It's a prediction that's made primarily by constructivists. What you refer to as trivia is probably a random fact with no particular connection to anything else you know. The facts you know are probably integrated into other bits of knowledge or other interests you have, meaning that they've got more connections than the random trivia does. The more connections a particular idea has the less easily it is forgotten as the more connections have to be disconnected before the information is gone.

All men rejoice (1)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778830)

For now we can blame Google for any unremembered anniversary.

Re:All men rejoice (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778852)

Oh sh*t!!!

Today is the 15th?!!?

Re:All men rejoice (3, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778854)

No... because that should be in your Google calendar, and you'll receive a reminder when you visit it.

Re:All men rejoice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778984)

Yeah, smart, tell Google the date you became married.

Google ads: "Shopping for an anniversary gift for that special someone?" "Contact hookers in your local area."

Re:All men rejoice (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779698)

Precisely, things like anniversaries and birthdays are precisely the sort of thing that you should be delegating to a machine to remember. With the plus side being that you can even set it up to remind you early enough to do something about it.

Yup :( (1)

master_kaos (1027308) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778846)

I know there are a bunch of things that I should remember, but I don't because I know they are a quick google away... It's similar to GPS. I have one and love it, but if you were to take it away I would have no idea how to get anywhere. My dad travels a lot, and knows a good portion of canada like the back of his hand. I ask how he remembers it all, and he said, "Easy, I don't rely on maps/gps" He says he can't believe how stupid people are these days, and cant do "basic" math in their head and always have to use a calculator... I know I am a shining example of that.

Re:Yup :( (1)

craigminah (1885846) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778922)

We discussed this at work a few days ago, how the Internet and googling answers/facts has made everyone reliant on it. This is great for when there's time to look something up but it's a huge crutch when one needs to think on his/her feet or provide a timely answer and the Internet is unavailable. I've seen junior folks who were excellent at their job running things and making their bosses go to them to get things done...if they had to stop to go google things they'd have no credibility at all. I learned a long time ago that knowing things equals having power, don't rely on googling...we must know stuff.

So I study biotechs... (1)

Nrrqshrr (1879148) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778848)

And we had to learn certain protocols of experimentation and manipulation and what not.
I know that this kind of knowledge isn't a waste, but honestly. The first time I entered an analysis lab, I found those exact protocols printed on a paper and posted on the walls, and the chief researcher advised us to use the lab's computer to look up the protocols in case we have a doubt.
When I think of the insistence of certain professors about learning these by heart and their numerous occurrences in exams, I can't hep but feel cheated.
They could have invested that time explaining other things or just delving deeper into the logics behind them.

Re:So I study biotechs... (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778926)

The problem with this approach can best be explained by math. If you don't know that 2+2=4, you will not understand that 2x2=4. If you don't know that Louis Pastuer proved that life does not come into existence by spontaneous generation, you might believe that all life came into existence by spontaneous generation.

Re:So I study biotechs... (1)

gomiam (587421) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779334)

You can explain multiplication from geometry without needing to know addition. It is better to know addition, but remember that there are many ways to define addition.

Knowing that it was Louis Pasteur who disproved spontaneous generation isn't critical. Knowing current life isn't spontaneously generated is important, but it is even more important to be able to use your intelligence to find a way to prove it one way or the other.

Naah. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778864)

'Perhaps those who teach in any context, be they college professors, doctors or business leaders, will become increasingly focused on imparting greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking, and less focused on memorization. And perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding.'"

Naaahhh. Ain't gonna happen. They may think they are focussing more but they...
Look: shiny ponies!

Externalized cognition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778872)

Calendars, Rolodexes, Phonebooks -- all repositories of (useless) data that the brain can't be bothered to store if it knows it can simply use your hands for a slightly slower retrieval time than the ~700 ms it takes to pull it out of your memory. Thanks to the concept of working memory [] , you may be losing the ability to remember things, but you are making gains in reasoning and critical thinking abilities.

Besides, after decades of research we can pretty much write off the human memory as an infallible resource. If you want accuracy, look it up in hard copy.

Re:Externalized cognition (0)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778920)

If you want accuracy, look it up in hard copy.

Thank you Winston Smith.

Google it up (1)

JK124 (1116989) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778886)

Brb.. Let me google up my response.

Bad teachers and bad students (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778932)

perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding.

I'm a college teacher and sadly the short-term effects of the internet have been exactly the opposite. Most students see the internet as a quick and effortless source of information, and seem unable to distinguish information gathering from actual understanding. Worse, because they don't actually process the information to build a consistent model of the subject they're studying, they're unable to filter out misinformation, so I keep getting papers where one paragraph completely contradicts the previous one, since they were "inspired" by (i.e., copied from) different sources, which were either wrong or talking about different contexts.

Easy access to search engines does have a lot of potential for education reform and progress, but not as long as teachers allow students to pass off their "googling skills" as proof of understanding.

Except, of course, for journalism students, but those have clearly come to terms with the fact that they can't actually understand anything, or they wouldn't have chosen a career in "repeating someone else's words". ;-)

Re:Bad teachers and bad students (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779478)

Ahh yes, I call them the copy & paste generation. Absolutely no ambition, thinking is a chore and a tedious bore to be done between Facebook/Playstation/Starcraft sessions.

How I've always learned (1)

gstrickler (920733) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778964)

I'm old enough that I was out of school before the Internet became available to most people, but I've always learned this way. I learn concepts, memorize the most important details and note the exceptions. All the other stuff, I'll learn if I use it regularly, and look it up if I don't.

As one of my high school teachers said, "Half the information in the world is knowing where to find the other half". That was before anyone had heard of a search engine and the internet didn't exist as such (it was ARPAnet and very few had heard of it).

bing? (1)

bobaferret (513897) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778966)

People still use Bing? I guess IE must point there by default....

Understanding requires factual knowledge (4, Insightful)

KalvinB (205500) | more than 3 years ago | (#36778990)

You can't "understand" things if you don't have the "facts"

The brain is also far superior than Google in combining facts into new understandings. Google cannot relate Moby Dick and Treasure Island together. You have to actually read the books to know what each are saying so that your brain can extrapolate the common themes.

The idea that having "stubs" of knowledge in the most powerful computer on the planet and leaving the real meat of facts in the dumbest computers on the planet is somehow a good thing is just idiotic. Google is not going to link information together for you. You have to put the real meat of information into your head and then only your brain is capable of making connections to create real understanding.

Re:Understanding requires factual knowledge (1)

DemonGenius (2247652) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779106)

This sounds a lot like Data vs. Code. Data comes and goes, but how that data is understood and worked with stays forever. Translated in more biological terms, it doesn't matter what specific facts we know at any one point in time because things change and people can and have rewritten history. How we learn to interpret information and how much better we get at it throughout the ages is what makes or breaks a civilization. It's probably more of a good thing than a bad thing that we have information at our fingertips, then we can focus more on how to interpret information, become more adept at it and less prone to manipulation and misinformation.

Re:Understanding requires factual knowledge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779404)

You can't "understand" things if you don't have the "facts"

Not quite. You can understand most fields of mathematics (which includes geometry) with almost no access to "facts".

Understanding is about building self-consistent mental models of concepts and phenomena. You need to fill in the variables with facts to make your models useful in the real world, but the models themselves are often independent from the information they relate.

Sadly we've gone from an education model where people were expected to memorize a lot of crap to a model where people are expected to know how to use Google. And while the first model sort of led to the "automatic" (though very inefficient) creation of some undestanding (because the brain optimizes storage by connecting related information), the new model doesn't even do that. Most teachers don't have a clue how to actually teach; they were used to being mere "providers of information", and they're not even much better at that than Google.

Re:Understanding requires factual knowledge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779414)

Exactly - its only the new-age intellectuals who scoff at knowledge. Thought is intrinsically the process of comparing something new to something you already know. Knowledge builds on knowledge, that is why we have schools. That is why we have books. That is why societies with written languages overwhelmed those that relied on oral tradition.

In terms of google, 99.9% of what is on the internet is simply wrong. Ok, maybe only 99%. The problem is, most people have so little knowledge that they have no way to discern whether something they read is valid or not because they have no other relevant knowledge to compare it against.

Re:Understanding requires factual knowledge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779434)

I need to google what the hell you just said to understand it.

Re:Understanding requires factual knowledge (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779444)

You're making a lot of unfounded assumptions about the way the brain works... Do you really think the generalization/pattern recognition abilities of the brain function by analyzing large amounts of detailed, memorized information? That's not how it works at all... Understanding how changes in the way people manage information affect various cognitive abilities is certainly an important research problem. But unless you happen to be a cognitive psychologist/neurologist, your extremely vague intuition on the matter (based presumably on nothing more than your personal conservative prejudices regarding technology, which seem paradoxically common among the /. crowd) is, in my opinion, "noise disguised as signal" (i.e. not useful, and damaging due to seeming potentially informed).

Re:Understanding requires factual knowledge (2)

avandesande (143899) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779778)

Your example defeats your argument. Nobody needs to memorize Moby Dick or Treasure Island to relate them together. Reading a book is not the same as memorizing it. If you were going to write a thesis on this you would just go back to the books and find the passages that back up your assertion.

deja vu (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36778994)

For anyone saying this is bad... (2)

bmo (77928) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779004)

Literacy changed the way how we remember things. Before that, we had to rely on oral tradition.

If you think that external tools weaken your brain and are bad for you, I suggest you try giving up reading and writing for a week. Not forever, just a week. No newspapers, just word of mouth. No jotting things down on post-it. No Sacred Shopping List for your Fallout Shelter.


Socrates crticicism of writing foreshadows this (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779012)

In Plato's Pheadrus volume Socrates complains that writing weakens memory and the mind. It causes them to become dependent on written words and books. "Rhetoric" was one of the four liberal arts in classical education. It not only covered how to compose good speeches but tricks to memorizing them too. The Internet may just be the next stage in the process.

Quiet a few things the internet sucks at (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779076)

For example, if you want to get statistics on sex, it is pretty much impossible to do so without going through a ton of inappropriate links. This is just the most obvious case of a standard problem of "overshadowing". Often the thing you want is over-shadowed by many other people looking for a similar issue. If you want to get reviews of a website that is optimizing search engines, often you get sent directly to various pages on that website.

Re:Quiet a few things the internet sucks at (1)

DrData99 (916924) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779280)

No kidding-ask Rick Santorum what he thinks of google!

Re:Quiet a few things the internet sucks at (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779624)

I suspect that by "inappropriate" you're referring to "frowned upon by your religion", and not simply "incorrect" or "unfounded", which would be a real researcher's definition of "inappropriate".

P.S. - Regarding the "statistics" you were looking for, yes, yours is too small.

Also the reason reading from books... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779088)

...and nothing else is terrible for educational reasons.
If things are written down, you feel less need to remember it since you can just go back a few pages and see.
Most people learn without actually understanding.
This needs to change. They need to be taught the knowledge, not taught how to read it off a book.
Tests are backwards. They are too far apart and too monolithic.

Memorization methods are also terrible too.
Memorization by doing a few examples is terrible, or re-reading stuff constantly.
It is easy to understand simple addition, add this number of objects to this number and you get more.
That is such a simple, logical concept. But they end up going on about it forever in textbooks.
Seriously, what the hell has happened to Maths education? Kids can do algebra that is currently being taught at ages over 12 EASILY, why are they delaying stuff like this?
Current traditional methods of memorization are downright terrible, in every way. Certain people are wired certain ways where the methods plain don't work. Period. Some can't get used to it. Then the education system comes along and slows their learning down instead of dealing with the actual reasons for it. (although that is mainly so there are enough cogs in the bowels of the system to keep the respective country afloat)

Seriously, a fast and GOOD way to memorize something is making nonsensical stories out of a bunch of random facts, rules, words or whatever.
Take, say, I dunno, sky and tree. Two seemingly unrelated words, lets link them.
Tree is like a sky to insects, it changes constantly, water falls from it, sunlight peers though depending on the leaves (clouds), it can grow weaker or stronger depending on seasons, they are high up with reference to the scales between insects and humans, the sky is also helped by trees by providing the oxygen needed to keep it healthy, likewise the sky keeps trees from dying. Both are mutually linked together from the early days of life on Earth.
Already there we have a bunch of facts relating the 2, some nice metaphors.
Metaphors are great for learning, it gives your creativity a good push, it encourages your brain to make even weirder connections between seemingly unrelated things.
Your brains memory is all about linking things together. The more links, the better it performs and the quicker you can recall stuff.
Similar method works really well for memorizing quotes of text too. (the best method, in fact, great for presentations and talks)
Take all the main words of a text, write them next to each other, recreate the original text from those main words by linking them, even if you don't get it 100%, if it is more-or-less correct, it was a success. Keep at it, daily, and I promise you that you will notice a significant difference in a few months, if not less.

There's a problem there... (1)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779126)

Facts are indeed helpful; they provide a framework with which to better understand the concepts that drive what we do from day to day. While I have never felt that rote memorization was the most important thing in learning a process, it's my strong feeling that without some concrete facts to act as cornerstones to more abstract concepts, those concepts could go greatly awry. And as is evidenced by the likes of Palin and Bachman, people who don't memorize facts tend to make up new ones to justify their actions ("Paul Revere's mission was to warn the British!" and "There is not one single study that indicates that CO2 is dangerous!", respectively) rather than look them up.

Re:There's a problem there... (1)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779286)

And I guess what I tried to imply here but probably didn't is that if kids are released from various grades without certain facts well set in their minds and verified by people who are responsible for their education, they are likely to go forward in the world with greater and greater belief that they are responsible for making up their own facts.


Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779148)

My memory has always been poor on details but I remember pointers and key words.

Having access to the internet has been a significant boon.

But my memory has been this way since before the internet.

First Post! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779174)

Oh man. I forgot to post this earlier!

Looking up something is not equal to understanding (1)

nfunk_ky (958662) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779208)

The Keys to understanding something involve some of the following... (feel free to add other examples)

Knowing what question to ask:
The right answer may be buried in the results if you don't ask the question in the right way.

Being able to apply the solution to the problem you have:
If the person who solved the same type of problem you had used materials or methods you don't have
access to then can you work around and get the same results?

Using the results that you get to restate your question for a finer focus:
The perfect is the enemy of the good, you need to know how much effort needs to go into the answer you are seeking.

Riight... Let's just skip facts...that'll work... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779246)

And perhaps those who learn will become less occupied with facts and more engaged in larger questions of understanding.

Unfortunately, "the facts" are one of the key items for reaching those very questions of understanding. Sadly, this is something I'd expect someone that spends more of their time in feeling than in thoughtful purusits would say- the "facts" are details about the world around you...what IS. Without noting what IS, you can't get anywhere. In fact, it's from disregarding that which IS that brought humanity to it's darkest hours.

Re:Riight... Let's just skip facts...that'll work. (1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779662)

The facts that can be remembered can be forgotten;
The facts that are remembered are not the eternal facts.

First post! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36779258)

Took me some time to google how I should respond, sorry about the delay.

Bing? Well, maybe... (1)

NReitzel (77941) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779290)

Funny you should use the term "just at hand" ...

The thing is about Bing, I don't really feel the need to remember details about porn sites or fabulous marketing "But Wait, There's More!" sites.

And I remember the details of sex, as it relates to me, without any assistance at all.

Maybe next year, when I'm older and more decrepit...

Remembering phone numbers (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779308)

Before we all had cellphones with contact lists in which you select the name "bob" and the phone automatically dialed the number, we had manually enter the phone number. This triggered both muscle memory and seeing the number over and over.

Go try and dial all your friend's phone numbers without using the contact list, just dial them manually. This can be quite a shock...

Relevant Einstein quote (2)

shoehornjob (1632387) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779328)

ONE OF Einstein's colleagues asked him for his telephone number one day. Einstein reached for a telephone directory and looked it up. "You don't remember your own number?" the man asked, startled. "No," Einstein answered. "Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?" Einstein was waay ahead of his time.

False equivalency (2)

Kijori (897770) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779350)

From my experience the internet does indeed create greater access to knowledge and facts, therefore making things like research much easier and making it unnecessary to remember trivial details that can easily be re-found. I think there is, though, a negative side to this abundance of information: a false equivalence among the different sources of information. How many times do you hear internet-users - and particularly, I would say, those who have grown up with the internet - stating as fact things they read in a blog, or an article from some unheard-of digital publication, and using that information to attempt to refute statements from a far more authoritative source? How often - here on Slashdot, for example - have you seen people refuse to believe something where another poster has cited a credible offline source, but accepting any link, no matter where from, as proof? How often do you see Wikipedia articles with footnotes that reference a page with no citations and no reputation as though the mere existence of a link somehow confirmed the point's veracity?

It's very easy, and in my experience very common, to treat the internet as a single source of knowledge, every fact that flows from which is equally credible and deserving of equal respect; this is perhaps helped by the anti-hierarchical bent of many internet users and online communities. This, I think, is something very strongly to be resisted. Hierarchy should be welcomed, provided it is won on merit. As an example, the authors who write the works of reference (offline) on a subject are selected because of their eminence and learning, and their writing is criticised by other respected experts in journals and other books. When we pretend that that filter is without value and that everyone's contribution is equally informative we put ourselves in the paradoxical position of having our learning hampered by an overabundance of information.

I was going to continue and give further examples and explanation but I don't want this to become overly lengthy and obscure my point: we should embrace the value of the internet - but we need also to be honest about its limitations. The online community is at present hostile to the idea of expert editorial control on online resources. They should not be (within reason). The internet can remove hierarchy and equalise everyone - but is that always desirable?

Re:False equivalency (1)

eyenot (102141) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779632)

Funny; just the last few days I have been ruminating on how these days, "meritocracy" is a very dirty word.

How is this specific to the Internet (1)

chicago_scott (458445) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779376)

Wouldn't encyclopedias and dictionaries have had the same effect before people used the Internet?

Maybe the phenomena would be proportionality bigger now, but it's not specific to the Internet.

Re:How is this specific to the Internet (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779500)

There was a little more effort involved in looking something up in an encyclopedia. Going through the index. No scroll. Tiny print. Flipping pages. This effort is what makes the difference. When things are too easy we tend to take them for granted.

Every 10 years computers change our brains (1, Insightful)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779540)

I remember back in college, they said "today's generation was losing focus ability for task-switching ability", much like the very computers creating the change. Now, we're ADD. Now, according to this, we won't remember a thing! So that's how computers come to take over. Not because they want to, but because they have to.

What really did my attention in though was my DVR. If I go distracted, I could just hit back and re-watch something. Except you can't do that in conversation. The ability to focus less often has I think changed my mind the most for the worse.

find answers (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779578)

in school we were taught to know how to find answers rather than risking remembering it wrong.

btw, that was pre-google.

Causality (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779616)

the Internet is NOT responsible for our memories being stored differently, it's our brains that have done that on their own. the human brain is incredible at organizing and optimizing itself which is a trait machines are far from achieving. giving an altered environment and without intervention, a new memory storage schema was implemented. how awesome is that?! :D

the Internet does nothing but provide access to information. how we utilize that information is determined by our brains.

Martin Fowler's Take (1)

flanders123 (871781) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779696)

This quote from his book "Refactoring" comes to mind:

"I deliberately try not remember anything I can look up, because I'm afraid my brain will get full"

Not coincidentally, I couldn't remember this quote verbatim...Or in which book Fowler wrote it....So I used Google to find the exact quote.

That's not why teachers change (1)

violasvegas (1662837) | more than 3 years ago | (#36779730)

The way teachers teach by and large has less to do with what works pedagogically and more to do with educational policy in America, which is regrettably focused on "results" and "standards" and not on things like critical thinking skills and higher level mental processing. There needs to be a shift away from what is testable and quantifiable toward what is useful and productive, however, it's not going to come from Google, Apple, Microsoft, or really anyone else who has an interest in keeping people from making informed decisions about the technology they consume.
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