The Google effect is a tendency for individuals to forget information that is readily available through search engines. During the Google effect – sometimes called digital amnesia – individuals have an excessive reliance on digital information as a form of memory recall.
Digital Amnesia And Google Effect
The effect is attributed to the advent of the internet and search engines, with the latter using sophisticated algorithms to deliver accurate and instantaneous information to users.
Cell phones have also played an important role. With ready access to hundreds or even thousands of cell phone numbers, there is less need to commit them to memory. The popularity of photo and video sharing platforms has also been significant. Users of platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are intentionally using still and moving images as a substitute for actual memories.
Essentially, the Google effect is a cognitive bias.
This bias suggests that people are better at remembering where to access stored information (and how to retrieve it) than they are remembering the information itself. This is because the human brain does not prioritize the storing of information that it can easily access later.
Implications of the Google effect
The Google effect has several negative implications for individuals and the wider society. Some of these include:
- Shallow and superficial engagement with the world. While information is readily available, it is not being committed to memory and used in everyday contexts. Shortening attention spans are further reducing the amount of information that can be memorized and applied to real-world situations.
- Low-quality information. Search engines store vast amounts of information, but much of it is low quality. Those who rely on this information to make decisions often lack critical thinking skills and intelligence.
- Poor mental health. Several studies have linked an increasing dependency on digital information with anxiety, poor cognitive task performance, and a lack of social skills.
- Access vulnerability. Information stored online is always vulnerable to cyberattacks, power outages, and hard drive failure. All have the potential to restrict access to information or in some cases, erase it.
Potential benefits of the Google effect
In a study by Yale University, students who were able to cross-reference their knowledge on a certain topic with Google were shown to have more confidence. As a key driver of educational success, confidence derived from the Google effect was seen to be crucial.
Further studies have shown that students were better able to locate peer-reviewed references for use in assignments. Although retention was lacking, knowing where to find and then synthesize reputable information may encourage memorization and critical thinking skills.
- The Google effect is a psychological phenomenon that describes the individual tendency to forget information available online.
- The Google effect has several negative implications for individuals. Chief among them are somewhat disengaged and uninformed interactions with the world. Mental health may also suffer as reliance on digital information increases.
- The Google effect does some limited benefits. Studies have shown that the easy retrieval of peer-reviewed research encourages university students to think critically and commit more information to memory.
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