The Google Effect

Some years ago, when we needed information to help us study, write a paper or translate, we had to go to the library and read books to find what we were looking for. And to find a phone number, we would have to check the phone book or our personal agenda. Since we had to dial the number every time we wanted to make a call, we would end up memorizing it.

Today, just by typing a term in the search engine, we get an inundation of information on that subject; and with the option to “Search”, we can even find out exactly where a specific term appears in each text. If we need to call someone, we just look for their name in our contacts, we don’t even need to see the number.

The Google effect, also called “digital amnesia”, is the tendency to forget the information that we know we can get from the internet. According to a 2011 study by Betsy Sparrow (Columbia University), Jenny Liu (University of Wisconsin) and Daniel M. Wegner (Harvard University), people tend to remember fewer details of things they think they can find online compared to things they believe they won’t be able to find online. Additionally, they are more likely to remember where to find the information than remembering the information itself.

Further studies ensure that this digital amnesia also affects our ability to recall personal information or phone numbers. It seems that, knowing that we can check our smartphones immediately whenever we need some personal information, we tend to erase that information from our brains.

What many wonder is what happens to our memory as a result of the use of these new technologies. How does the Google effect affect our memory? Does it weaken it? Do we have less capacity to remember? Or do we fill that “space” with other information? According to the researchers, the Google effect does not affect us negatively; our brain is adapting to the current circumstance, a circumstance in which technology is part of our everyday lives.

And how does this affect translators? If there is anyone who depends on searching for information, it is translators. Every day we must research specific subjects or terminology in order to carry out our work; and search engines are great allies, as they allow us to research and save time from the comfort of our desk. But how do you think that affects our ability to withhold information? As for me, I choose to think that our brains are simply adapting to this technology-reigning reality.