Humans and machines have been intertwined for as long as anyone currently reading these words can remember. Recently though, the discussion has turned to whether this relationship affects our mutual memories. In essence, do we remember things? Or do we, as a collective human race, simply remember to google them?

The study publicized this week by the New York Times comes was spearheaded by Dr. Lindsey Sparrow and the Psychology Department of Columbia University. They tested people on 40 different bits of trivia, entered by the subjects into computers. The catch? Half of those tested typed the questions believe they would be able to call those bits of information back from the computer. The other half were told the information entered into the computer would be deleted. The study found “Participants did not make the effort to remember when they thought they could later look up the trivia statement they had read”. Your mind knows now, in these trying times, when to focus and remember, and when to not pass “go” and head directly to Google.

The other major example of this memory erosion shows a lapse in so-called “transactive memory”, which the Times defines as “the notion that we rely on our family, friends and co-workers as well as reference material to store information for us.” We count on landmarks, images, scents, smells and people to remind us basic facts and logical connections. Thanks to the internet, the study finds, we no l longer place memory information with these familiar tools in our brain; instead, we simply remember to use the technology at hand to retrieve the information. The take-away at the end of the article? Dr. Sparrow’s bombshell: “Human memory is adapting to new communications technology.”

This is not news. Take for example the demographic of people who accessed this article via tweet, blog post, or even the online edition of the paper. They wouldn’t even have read those words if their brain hadn’t adapted, at some point, to each one of these information transmission systems. Acclaimed author and journalist Jonah Lehrer writes at Wired: “for most of human history, the only other reliable source of information were other people. What these experiments reveal is that we treat the search engine like a particularly clever friend.” Our buddy Google has always got our collective back. Lehrer, the author of “Proust Was A Neuroscientist” explains that this is easier to understand if you think of the human mind as a computer. “Although we like to think of our cortical hard drive as infinite in capacity, it’s actually pretty constrained” he writes, “which is why we’re always looking for ways to not remember stuff”.

To put the limits of our mind in context, it’s important to remember how much information is thrown at us daily. Google recently announced that the new Google + network transmits 1 billion items of information per day. Facebook? They say 4 billion items of information. Twitter countered with their own staggering statistic: 350 billion pieces of information (if you could call most tweets actual information) per day. Divided by the number of “real” Twitter users as determined by Business Insider, 56 million, that means each twitter user absorbs 6, 250 pieces of information daily.
Is it really that hard to believe that we can’t remember anything?