Memory and the Cybermind
THE line that separates my mind from the Internet is getting blurry. This has been happening ever since I realized how often it feels as though I know something just because I can find it with Google. Technically, of course, I don’t know it. But when there’s a smartphone or iPad in reach, I know everything the Internet knows. Or at least, that’s how it feels.
This curious feeling of knowing has settled over most of us. In a group, someone always seems to be “checking” something in the conversation, piping up with handy facts culled from a rapid consultation with the Great and Powerful Man Behind the Curtain. I’ve attended more than one nerdy party where everyone had a link open and we were all talking about things we didn’t know until we were prompted by our conversation to look them up.
Who knew that the king of hearts was the only one without a mustache? Well, I did — as soon as I checked. The Web is always there, an ever present cloud of intelligence.
The desire to consult the Web is almost like an itch. This was illustrated empirically in an experiment that Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu and I reported in the journal Science last year. We asked people either a series of easy trivia questions or a series of hard ones, and then immediately checked to see if consulting the Web was on their minds.