The ‘Google Effect’: We are all suffering from Digital Amnesia

Do you remember the name of that one movie with Robert De Niro? You don’t remember? Then you will probably just Google it to find out. Do you know your mother’s phone number by heart? Why should you, the number is stored in your smartphone. Recent studies suggest that the abundance of information and the accessibility of information through the internet are changing the way of how our memory works. Technology is presumed to change the very way how our brains store information.

Information is everywhere and it is overwhelming. Smartphones increase the accessibility of information even further with Google and Wikipedia at our fingertips. If that is not enough, Facebook and other social media are smashing information in our faces. In order to deal with all the information around us, we tend to save it in our smartphones and pc’s. We literally are ‘outsourcing’ our memories to external devices or the internet. When information is stored in these external devices, our brains do not worry about it anymore. As a result, our brains’ cognitive processes alter which leads to digital amnesia: “the experience of forgetting information that you trust a digital device to store and remember for you”.

So is technology making us dumber? Researchers do not believe so. We are just handling information differently. Instead of taking the effort of remembering, we just search for the answers online. Because we know that answers can be found, our brains have learned to rely on the internet rather than remembering the information itself. Our brains have become more efficient in learning where and how to find information. Consequently, the internet is treated as an extension of our own memory.

However, it is the dependency of our brain on technology what is concerning. For example, when your smartphone’s battery is empty, or the internet itself is out, you cannot use Google to access your ‘outsourced’ memory. Even worse, our external memories will be lost when hard disks or the cloud fails. Because we are so used to outsource our memories, we do not think about how vulnerable our external memories are. Researchers do not yet know what long-term implications digital amnesia has. Should we invent ways to better secure our external memories? Or do we need to train our brains in order to stay fit? I do not know. For now, I’ll just stick to Google.



Bohannon, J. (2011). Searching for the Google Effect on People’s Memory. Science, 333(6040), pp.277-277.

Roberts, G. (2015). Google Effect: is technology making us stupid?. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 22 Sep. 2015].

The rise and impact of digital amnesia. (2015). 1st ed. [ebook] Kaspersky Lab. Available at: [Accessed 24 Sep. 2015].

Van Raemdonck, N. (2015). ​Digitaal geheugenverlies: hoe smartphones ons geheugen overnemen. [online] Motherboard. Available at: [Accessed 22 Sep. 2015].


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7 responses to “The ‘Google Effect’: We are all suffering from Digital Amnesia”

  1. spitinov says :

    Hey, 357176wb, what an interesting article you have written.
    There are two points that worry me a lot after reading it. Probably, you can elaborate on them.
    The first one is connected with long-terms effects of such amnesia. We started relying on our devices relatively recently, so no evolutional change can happen during such a short span of time. Nevertheless, what will be with our memory in 200+ years I wonder? Not long ago I read the article about a paralyzed man was able to move with the help of neuro-integrated interface. Therefore, I guess even in the nearest future our minds and our devices can become interconnected.
    The second one is about risks; such reliance on the devices is potentially dangerous. No, I’m not speaking about SkyNet and war with machines, but about the situation, that will happen as soon as we lose our precious f information. Right now, we cannot imagine anything that can erase all information. However, what today is a nonsense can be a harsh reality of the future.

  2. m.zigo says :

    357176wb, a pretty nice article!
    I especially like the raised questions at the end. Thus, I would like to express my brief opinion on the subject.
    Nowadays, we live in an era of information overload. Meaning we absorb extremely high amount of information during the day from number of different sources, such as from constant smartphone or laptop, workplace and University. However, as you mentioned, we try to keep track of all the information by outsourcing it to our smartphone which is constantly with us. It is critical to find a right balance of absorbing new information by filtering out unimportant stuff and keeping the focus.Has it ever happened, that you just wanted to check time on your smartphone, but once you looked at the screen your attention was instantly taken away by various notifications on the screen, and you did not look at the time at all? I am sure it did.
    Therefore, despite the push of a big IT companies, such as google, microsoft and apple, that are trying to make our life easier by higher integration of electronic devices into our daily life, I think we should not loose focus of what we do, and do not blindly adapt to all the innovation the big three IT trendsetter companies bring us.

  3. 366650do says :

    This topic is a very interesting one, in my opinion. Coming from a background where we tended to read tremendous amount of literature per year, learned poems by heart and were taught to memorize stuff, the relience of my life right now on the Internet is huge. How many of us tend to actually put value into what we learn?
    This is the queston that is probaby has risen in our education system. Pupils ,then students tend to think or structure their mind that they can always Google stuff. You can always watch a youtube tutorial about anything, you can fix your computer by watching like somebody else fixes it. If you study at the moment for the exam at the university, you study mostly because you want to pass it and in case you will need some information in your workplace about how to calculate Weighted Average Cost of Capital (which is widely used), you most probably will just google the formula or even better, insert the desired parameters in the online solver. So if we look in the question of digital amnesia profoundly, don’t you think that it will revolutionize our education system?
    We would need to teach our new generation not the basis and the primitives of certain calculation (for instance, at the university level), but to teach them real life practical applications of certain knowledge. We need to spend less time manually calculating and learning the formulas or anything that is mathematically computer-solved, and more time of in-depth understanding of their application and the importance of parameters alterations on the field certain information is used in.
    I think new ways of living our lives should revolutionize our approach to it from the very beginning.

  4. navidsadatrazavi says :

    Hey, 357176wb, I really like your article.
    I agree with m.zigo, that we are confronted with an information overload, currently leading to a situation that is not manageable without adblockers or similar technologies. We mustn´t forget to use our brains and force ourselve not to get distracted.
    However, there is also another side to the story. In order to further evolve we need to think beyond our cognitive abilities. Computers, being our creation, can also be considered part of us. I believe that your post is describing the early process of technologies that are supporting our cognitive abilities. What if, at some point, these machines will help us to channel this information overload to perform things that normal brains will never be capable of.
    Hence, we shouldn´t be afraid of these technologies, but as m.zigo said, be aware of its risks and disadvantages!

  5. 373456sj says :

    Interesting article!

    You raise some intriguing questions. However, I would like to note that before the rise of the internet, people were not able to remember everything at all times either. If one would forget a formula, they would look it up in a book and phone numbers were written in rolodexes. The fact that these information databases have been digitalised and made easier to access, does not necessarily make them more harmful, I would argue. Perhaps our digital ‘outsourced’ memory is not making us dumber, but simply lazier!

  6. maxhilt says :

    This is a very interesting topic. A research by Sparrow, Liu and Wegner (2011) also confirms these ideas. Their experiment showed that people immediately think of technology when asked a complex question rather than thinking for themselves. As a consequence they found that people will forget what they have been searching to solve that question, as their brain will remember that this information is externally available. The, in my opinion, funny and ironic thing is that this research also found that people do remember on which website or other online source this information can be found indicating that the human brain is adapting itself to these new information sources.

    I think this last bit of the Sparrow et al’s is an important notion. Apparently our brain is evolving to categorize data sources and how to access these sources rather than remembering the actual content. I think one, more simplistic, example of this in my life is IMDB. I used to remember movies much better. Not only the story, but also actors, directors and even the names of the characters being played. Since I can just look up every character now, I notice that I am much less bothered with actually trying to remember everything. Then when someone brings up the movie, I reach out for IMDB immediately. I think this same process happens for a lot of people with google and other data sources that make life easier.

    One big risk concerning this topic will be the next generation that has grown up with this kind of technology at their disposal immediately when they become self-aware. The studies talked about in this blog post and the comments mostly focus on my generation (1990’s) and earlier who’s brain has been adapted to this evolution. When I grew up, the only social media available was MSN messenger, which was nothing more than a chat program. I am therefore quite interested to find out how this affects the brains of the youth today, with all the ICT and social media surrounding them, and whether similar thinking process is found?


    Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. science, 333(6043), 776-778.


  7. laduc01 says :

    I really like your point of view on this topic, however the term ‘suffering’ implies that the new information technologies have a negative effect on our existence. I believe we can agree that people tend to remember less because of devices, but on the other hand our society is demanding more knowledge than ever before. Therefore I would like to suggest to step away from the individual perspective and look at it from a society perspective.

    Back in the days people used writing in caves to create, remember and tell stories to new generations. Afterwards people invented books to capture and spread stories. The ancient Greeks even invented universities to educate people to improve the governance of societies and all their intelligence was written in books. However much of these books are destroyed for many reasons, which is a big loss to us all.

    Nowadays we see the recent innovations have the capability to store of information in digital libraries that is accessible to all. Individuals are able to use this information in their profession and together we are able to build and improve our society. And since individuals pass away over generation, the knowledge they create during their existence is captured (in books and the internet) and will stay beneficial for generations to come.

    In conclusion I would like to state that it is about the value of information that individuals use to improve society. From this perspective the capability of the individual to remember information because invalid. Therefore we should embrace technologies, because people will benefit and are able to create a better society with the increasing amount of information that is available.

    Vincent Laduc – 417658vl

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