Remember that show with the robots, the one where they blow up all the humans?
Oh, yeah – Battlestar Gallactica?
Yeah! What was that guy's name — the scientist dude?
It starts with a "B" I think?
In essence, both people have partial memories of any event. Your brain, because it's a bit lazy and can only retain so much information at any time, grows to depend on those around you to fill in the blanks. If your best friend is super-good at remembering birthdays, and you know you can depend on her to remind you of important birthdays, then you brain actually delegates the remembering to her. And, maybe you're great at remembering people's names — she might subconsciously delegate remembering names to you.
In this way, we're linked with our families and friends, all sharing the responsibility for remembering the past.
But, the Internet is changing a lot of that. In his new book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, Wired columnist Clive Thompson explores how our minds adapt to current technology.
What's changed rapidly in the past 20 years is the ubiquity of information available through search engines. Since our brains are already eager to share the burden of remembering, scientists believe that we're actually treating Google much like we used to treat our loved ones — we know Google remembers the name of the actor who plays Todd on Breaking Bad, so we might be less likely to remember it ourselves.
So, does this mean we're doomed, memory-wise, and that machines are making us dumber? Not quite, Thompson says — the Internet is just an extension of a practice that's been around from the dawn of time. Our memories have always been collective, now we've just included computers in the deal. (Slate)