Google Fast

blank_thoughts(By which I mean “no Google,” not “Google with fingers aflame.”)

There’s an article on memory from the New York Times that’s stuck with me since late 2012. Here’s a bit:

In a further study, our group looked into the effect of computer availability on memory. We asked people to type into a computer 40 factoids they had each just been given. (For example, French fries are originally from Belgium, not France.) Those who were told the computer would not record these facts tended often to remember the facts themselves. But those told that the computer would record everything were inclined promptly to forget them. Knowing we can fall back on our computers makes us fail to store information in our own memories.

So, if we know material is safe and accessible – if we feel like facts are in our back pocket, basically – the stakes feel lower. Or that’s what I take from it.

Further along, the author talks about “transactional memory.” This type of memory, or bank of memories, involves two or more people or entities sharing facts among them (experiences, and so on) in a transactional manner, building, in essence, a comprehensive memory bank. An example: I don’t feel the need to learn or remember, say, keyboard combinations for an em-dash on a PC because I know that a friend, or a search engine – the perfect example of an entity – already knows and is willing to share. (Honestly, I learn it, then I forget it. Over and over again.)

He closes:

We have all become a great cybermind. As long as we are connected to our machines through talk and keystrokes, we can all be part of the biggest, smartest mind ever. It is only when we are trapped for a moment without our Internet link that we return to our own humble little personal minds, tumbling back to earth from our flotation devices in the cloud.

There is no way I could function to a minimally acceptable level at work (or home) without the Internet. But I wanted to do a bit of a test to see what would happen if I were at least denied use of a search engine. More specifically, Google Search. For a week. Yikes.

My rules:

1. Do not use the Google page or the address bar for searches,
2. Do not use any other search engines, and
3. Do not disingenuously ask a colleague, loved one, or friend questions I know I could find the answers to if I searched long enough.

I started my test two days ago and it will run until next Monday. It happens that four of the seven days are not work days and so I have a nice balance of work and home habits to observe. Also, just in case there’s a risk I’ll shortchange my students, as classes start next week I’ll only be working with them on the Monday.

And, really, that’s what I’m most interested in gauging, for myself and the students: am I able to provide the same level of service without Google in my back pocket? What will happen if, as the author writes, I know I don’t have the safety net of a search engine?

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