Your Brain on Google

How Your Searches Change The Way You Think

Look at the top of the page for a second. You’ll see the magical button that has changed the way your brain functions: Search.

This site, and millions like it, gives you the opportunity to enrich you life by simply offering you knowledge, delivered in milliseconds. Art, entertainment, literature, science, philosophy, and boundless other subjects are contained in the nearly 300 million websites that make up the Internet.

Search engines make scouring that information bearable and have made our world so much easier. All you have to do is punch in a few words and pretty soon you’ll find what you were looking for, even if it is as simple as ending the mystery of the lyrics to the song that’s been stuck in your head for two months.

But, that ease in pulling up information is making us all dumber. Well, sort of. 

A recently published study in Science highlights the darkest fears of those who have expressed skepticism about what the Internet might be doing to the human intellect. The Internet has changed the way we think.

The advent of access to limitless knowledge now has our minds remembering the knowledge less, and thinking of its source more.

“The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it,” the authors of the study—Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegner—wrote.

In essence, the Internet has become our collective brain. It is, after all, the place of nearly unlimited knowledge on subjects that fill every last tiny niche, even if that might be dozens of photos of cats making funny faces.

Now that we’re so used to searching for information on computers, phones, or wherever there’s a wi-fi connection, we use the Internet as a place to share our collective knowledge.

Before the Internet, we had to visit the library, search through books, or at least call that one really smart friend that knows a lot about everything. Finding out information used to take work, so we’d store that information well in order that we wouldn’t have to go through all that effort again. Well, the Internet made that process effortless. It’s no longer about the search, but about figuring out the easiest way to find the answers.

As we’ve been quickly searching for answers for decades, our brains have evolved to our environment—humans have entered the Google era.

The study concludes with this interesting addendum: as soon as we begin thinking of something we need to find, we begin thinking of keywords that will give us the best search results.

 For example, if you’re trying to convert kilometers into miles, you might think that the phrase “distance conversion” will give you the best results, leading you to a page with your answers. So you type in “distance conversion” rather than “convert 20 kilometers into miles.”

Then again, as Google learns more about what people are searching for, the more their algorithm starts to mimic human thought. Now, if you punch in, say, “20 kilometers into miles,” Google does the math for you and lets you know it equals 12.4274238 miles. And it does that calculation in 0.19 seconds.  

You don’t have to remember that number. You only have to remember where to find it again.

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