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Friday Afternoon Memory Bleg: Does Googling Trip Your Brain's Switch?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, July 16 2010

As I both get older and use the web more, I am noticing that my memory seems to be changing. I used to think that this was just a product of a) getting older and b) juggling many more loose ties to people, more loose pieces of moving puzzles, and c) nothing all that interesting.

But yesterday I had a funny experience and in sharing it with a friend, discovered that I wasn't alone.

Essentially, what I'm noticing is that frequently, when I can't remember the name of someone or something, but have a few relevant pieces, the mere act of starting to enter that information into a Google search causes me to complete the memory.

To wit, yesterday, during a brainstorming conversation about writers who might be interesting to talk to about their attitude about transparency and government, I was reaching for an unusual example of someone who I think is a great writer and incisive thinker about how we live today. "Tony.....Tony....the playwright...who wrote Angels in America."

Unfortunately, no one knew who I was talking about. So, I started to pull out my iPhone to Google the information, and even before I started typing Tony Kushner had popped into my mind.

Later yesterday afternoon, I was on the shuttle from DC to NY and sitting with Beth Noveck, White House Deputy CTO for open government. (We were coincidentally on the same flight in both directions yesterday, but--full-disclosure--she is a friend and we've known each other for years prior to her government service.)

As she described for me how she juggles her busy work day, answering emails while walking on the sidewalk, etc etc, I started asking she thought the intensity of information management that many of us now deal with might be changing our brains, or affecting decision-making. At which point she started to tell me a story and wanted to remember someone's name. "So-and-so, he said he knew you, it was something you had written..." Again, she started to reach to Google the answer, and before doing so, the name was on her lips.

Aha!

Does the mere act of getting ready to go online to look up a missing piece of information, that you know you have somewhere in the back of your brain, cause the connection to flow?

If so, as Beth put it in a tweet yesterday, "Do you ever have to google something in order to remember it? Brain now an extension of Google not the reverse."

Inquiring minds want to know. Well, at least Nicholas.....Nicholas...what's-his-name...?