People Mistake the Internet’s Knowledge For Their Own

“In the current digital age, people are constantly connected to online information. The present research provides evidence that on-demand access to external information, enabled by the internet and search engines like Google, blurs the boundaries between internal and external knowledge, causing people to believe they could—or did—remember what they actually just found. Using Google to answer general knowledge questions artificially inflates peoples’ confidence in their own ability to remember and process information and leads to erroneously optimistic predictions regarding how much they will know without the internet. When information is at our fingertips, we may mistakenly believe that it originated from inside our heads.”

-Adrian F. Ward, “People mistake the internet’s knowledge for their own.” PNAS. October 26, 2021 118 (43) e2105061118;

One person’s rancid garbage is another person’s Golden Corral buffet that they believe they cooked themselves.

4 thoughts on “People Mistake the Internet’s Knowledge For Their Own

  1. I wrote about external memory (and relatedly, external knowledge and external processing) way back in 2007. Hardly new ideas even then, namely, that we are forfeiting the proper activity of the mind to devices with the hidden agenda of becoming those devices in all their indefatigable purity. Adrian Ward is late the party and ought to at least tut-tut that we have learned nothing in the past decade plus.

    1. Nothing new under the sun. The same arguments you make about technology were also made of the written word undermining people’s oral memory. I can’t recite Homer, but I’d count switching to the written word a net positive. Too early to tell with more modern advances though…

      1. It’s probably easily dismissed as alarmist, but given our god-like technologies (note your E.O. Wilson quote in your Dec. 9 blog post), I venture to say that this time it’s different. While previous new technologies and mass media did represent entirely divergent ways of thinking and relating (e.g., the Gutenberg Revolution gave rise to the Reformation), none possessed the same wholesale destructive power or led so far afield as today’s tech. Moreover, reports of significant disturbances to psyche, especially among young girls, are already commonplace. The fullness of time will only help to clarify the outline already established.

        As you must know, this subject is a giant philosophical area of inquiry, and most of the philosophers and pundits I read are far from sanguine about how things are shaping up. Yet innovation and development accelerate, leaping heedlessly into the breach that begins to look ever more like the abyss.

      2. I agree with the thrust of your comments. But, I am also remember reading books like Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, published in 1978. Wikipedia’s summary renders the four arguments as: “Mander’s four arguments in the book to eliminate television are that telecommunication removes the sense of reality from people, television promotes capitalism, television can be used as a scapegoat, and that all three of these issues negatively work together.” You could probably replace television with technology, or a specific technology like social media, and the argument would largely be the same.

        The problem is that technology, anymore than television, will not be eliminated. There is no “kto kogo” struggle that will potentially resolve in a way we might like. So, the question is, how do you live with it, such as be imposing limits, where technology serves as a net benefit? I’ve found giving up certain things, such as Facebook, or never having started others, such as Twitter/Tik-Tok, have been excellent decisions for my personal well-being. But, I’m more ambivalent about others, such as Reddit. There’s value there and some possibility of using it in a way that is mostly a positive. And, of course, there is this blog (or my various other efforts to create a digital zettelkasten) that I believe is an important vehicle for personal development. So, it isn’t all bad news.

        I have found various forms of apocalyptic thinking attractive. But, I’ve spent enough time with people like Kunstler to realize it’s not how I want to live my life. So, the question, at least for me, is how can we live with it, even acknowledging everything you are saying is true?

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