First Click: Google’s making me dumb

June 23rd, 2015

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I don’t know my own phone number even though it hasn’t changed in 15 years. Yet I can still remember the home numbers of my two best friends in grade school. As a species, we’re gaining more and more knowledge every year. But I’m only getting dumber.

I blame Google.

I can’t name half the streets in my Amsterdam neighborhood without the help of Google Maps. I can’t fully grok the newsletters my kids bring back from school until Google Translate converts the Dutch into English. And with Google Now on pace to deliver just the right information at just the right time, soon I won't have to remember anything. Thanks, Google.

I blame Apple, too.

My iPhone puts the world’s information at my fingertips. With Siri, I just say "call my wife" without ever having to know her phone number. Or I can ask "who won the Oscar for best picture in 2014" to settle an argument over Steve McQueen. Tap and hold on any multi-syllabic word in the Kindle app and I can instantly read the definition. Why memorize anything when it’s so readily accessible? Way to go, Apple.

The idea that the internet is making us stupid isn’t new, of course. I couldn’t remember where I first heard it but a quick Google led me to a 2008 Nicholas Carr piece published in The Atlantic titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" In 2011 he got his answer from Betsy Sparrow at Columbia. Her research showed that human memory is adapting to the instant availability of all the world’s information. As such, we’re more likely to remember where the facts are rather than the facts themselves. That’s certainly true for me — my memory sucks but I can craft the perfect Google search for just about anything.

The apps and services I carry on my smartphone have improved my life immeasurably. But they’ve also made me lazy. So really, I guess the only one to blame for my empty brain is myself.


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