The Google Effect of life, my digital storytelling

Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, and the things you never want to lose.


Ever since I can remember right before dawn, my nan would take my little hands between hers and we would walk outside where she would pull up a chair, and I would lie on top of her with my little pale legs sticking out the side.  She always had a different story to tell.

I remember the story of Joao de Barro; John of mud, an elderly man who had nothing, and yet when poverty hit he helped others to build houses made out of mud facing the sun, so they too would always remember there is light. This taught me simplicity and humbleness. She told me the story of Amor; Love. A tale of  how the sun and the moon fell deeply in love, but their love did not agree with the rest of the universe, and although this meant they would be separated, the rest of the world would be showered with light, warmth and love, and so I learnt that not everything works out in our favour, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t for the better. Between those there was many others, I remember them so vividly that it is as if I can hear her voice whispering them in my ear as I write.

Now our worlds are kilometers apart and every Sunday night when I call my little old lady, right before we hang up she always asks me the same question: ‘Tell me Moara, do you still remember that story I used to tell you…?’.

Being so far away from your family places a great deal of pressure in our minds, in our memories. We tend to dwell on the past and that is why remembering is so important. When we packed our entire lives into seven boxes before shipping them off to Australia, I remember my mum writing FRAGILE in big red letters all around one box, just that one box. I asked her if that’s where she had placed by barbie dolls, she smiled and she said yes, along with all of our photo albums. Now I understand that it was the most fragile box of all, it contained things far too previous to forget.

As I sit here and think about how much things have changed, I swipe through my phone that I hold so close and so tight to me, because heaven forbid that my little portable box gets scratched, cracked or wet, it  too contains many of my precious memories.


So why is it that I don’t need to look back each day through my photo albums to know exactly what the photos look like, and why is it I can quote my nan’s tales word for word, and yet I sit here and scroll through the same old photos and information I have stored on my iPhone like it is new? My 84 year old nan remembers everything about everyone, phone numbers, recipes and birthdays, and so did I at one stage, so has our capacity to remember been reduced by technology?

facebook poll

If I were to present my nan with a brand new iPad and teach her how to join Facebook and surf the web, would I start seeing early signs of dementia on her? Turns out I’m not far from the truth! It’s called the Google Effect.

Is our brain a permanent complete archive we seem to think it is? Whether the internet is a solid functional archive or not we have a tendency to treat it like it is. We upload our thoughts, appointments, documents, we google facts we need instantly, we treat it like this off board extension of our minds. So how is leaning on the internet changing our actual memory?

Intense internet usage is making our brain better at multitasking and quick decision making – Hebbs rule – the more you work on an area, the stronger it gets. Cells that fire together, wire together!

Are we trading off some cognitive skills in the process or just growing into humanity?

Brain = Computer
Computer = Hard drive
Hard drive = Full
Brain = Full?


If we are using our brains as a hard drive, is it possible that we will eventually run out of room? We believe that we are freeing up our memories for more important things, but I feel like we definitely haven’t reached our full memory capacity, if that’s even a possibility.

According to Nelson Cowan – University of Missouri ‘The magical mystery four: How is working memory capacity limited, why?’ Our brain has a billion neurons and each of those connects to a thousand of its neighbours, they all help each other to store multiple memories, so it’s really not the long term memory we need to worry about. It feels like we are freeing up space in our brains because we are taking things out of our short term memory, which he explains can only hold 2-4 things at a time, however, not leaving things there stops it from converting them into a long term memory.

It’s that feeling of short term overload that’s really letting the internet affect us. When we are writing an essay and checking the internet, Facebook, Tweeter, getting an email, well that’s our four things limit. We are always putting ourselves into a place where we are overloading and swapping things into that short term memory.


Cognitive scientist Torkel Klinberg explains in The over flowing brain – Information overload and the limits of working memory that when we are operating at full capacity our brain finds destruction exponentially more destructing, so the more we are bouncing around from page to page, thing to thing online, the more likely we are to leave those things behind for something new, and none of that leads to the process of important information. If we don’t process it, we don’t remember it.

The concern here is that because of the internet we are wiring our brains to constantly scan for information without taking it in, losing our ability for long term memorization.

This great video give us a short demonstration of transactive memory:

Transactive memory is essentially using our friends and family as reference materials to remember things for us. Google is our global transactive friend for everything.

Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips: Columbia University study published in a science magazine, showed two groups of people a list of facts to memorise, they told one group that the file with the list would be deleted later and said nothing to the second group. The group that thought the file had been deleted remembered more facts than the group who was unaware of it. In a secondary test, people were told the facts and then showed what folder they were in on a hard drive. People were more likely to remember the folder location than the actual facts and that goes back to the brain restructure the above Youtube video talks about. We are getting better at finding and organizing but potentially worse at deep focus.

As I ponder over all the overload of information I have just retrieved while researching, I think of my nan, a lady wise as time, and how she came to learn everything she knows today and passed on her wisdom to me and I have now shared some of that with you, (my readers), but will google pass on all of this to my kids in a swipe of a finger? And if so, when we are gone and all that is left are highly tech-savvy humans to run the world, they will pose the search of the questions, but who will do the answering?

We do not remember days, we remember moments. The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.” – Cesare Pavese


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