Are Computers Making Us More or Less Smart?

July 20, 2011 By Aminda

Computers have clearly changed how we work – information is so accessible it’s almost like an external memory source. We’re losing our need to rely on memorization of facts as simple as a phone number or as complex as a foreign language. Now, a new study has actually shown that memory actually is impacted when a person knows a piece of information is saved on a computer.

The good news is that it may demonstrate more a shift in how we remember rather than a negative impact on memory. For example, rather than remember a piece of information, we remember where the information is saved on the computer.

What was inconclusive, however, according to study authors, is the impact of these changing memory patterns. If you stop focusing on memorizing facts, will the brain better remember concepts?

According to one neurologist, the trend does not seem harmful. Even if not using the capacity we have, the need to perform some memorization tasks will not completely disappear. And easy access may prevent the information overload that can be a negative effect of internet usage. However, he does acknowledge there are potential unknown ramifications to relying on computers that should be further researched.

Another perspective is that when we don’t have to remember simple information such as phone number, it frees us up to think about other things. According to Jeff Hawkins, co-founder, Palm Computing, the brain has a limited capacity, so if you give it high-level tools, it will work on high-level problems. What’s important is your ability to use what you know well, according to a writer for CNET. For example, a perfect score on a written driving test doesn’t mean you can drive.

This question, that of the computers’ impact on human intelligence, has been around about as long as the computer as shown in this interesting series of videos posted by Stanford. It chronicles the public debut of innovations such as the computer mouse technology expected to “enhance group productivity and augment human intellect.”

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Reader Comments

Did you know that the same thing about books? It was commonly believed that they would make people forget the stories and information they previously had to memorize!
Posted by Fritz Balcorta on July 28, 2011

I trust our brain is intelligent enough to determine how to be used in the most efficient way (e.g. how to eliminate redundancy) and what data we can forget without suffering drastic disadvantages.
Posted by Jan Takke on July 27, 2011

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