Quick, what’s your sister’s phone number? The address of your favorite restaurant? The name of the florist down the street? If you’ve got that info stored on your phone or computer but not committed to grey matter memory, welcome to the era of the digital dyad, your two-dimensional partner in remembering important things.

Transactive Memory

Before we could summon Siri or go to Google, we simply made an effort to remember things. When that failed, we went to our inner circle of friends, family, and coworkers to help us recall details like birthdays, events, and statistics. That transactive memory, employing the brains of connected people, is sort of like a three-dimensional, real-life Google search.

Not Memory Loss, But Memory Change

Some concern over the inability to remember things, like the birthday list or certain phone numbers, exists. Rather than notching it as a mark in the loss column, I agree with the late Daniel Wegner’s student, Betsy Sparrow, that it is simply a switch from a people-oriented search to an online search. What’s even better, making this not just a plus, but five-star stuff, is that a virtual search often comes back with a wealth of information supporting the answer to your question. While a human 3D query often delivers the answer you seek, it’s usually just that. Ask Siri the same question and you’re likely to get three or four additional supporting facts.

Cautionary Tale

The danger in relying on online responses hovers around knowing your source. When you physically perform a human Google search, you are likely to know the individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Asking your stock broker friend a question about nutrition might not give you optimum results, but you know ahead of time what you’re dealing with. You know the person’s thought processes and background, and thus how much weight to give the answer. When you do an online Google search, the algorithm secrets and hidden agendas can deliver answers that are less than impartial. Just as you assess the value of a 3D response, knowing and understanding online resource backgrounds is important.

Where Did I Put That?

Knowing where to look to find unbiased, reliable information is a dynamic, continuous job. Good researchers maintain a current, diligent, and flexible approach with both 2D and 3D sources, with an understanding of how things work in the virtual world. A Google search is only as good as the person performing it. Research brains now employ the significant amount of memory once dedicated to dates, phone numbers, and statistics to remembering where to look for answers to important questions.

Smitten With “Her”

Another interesting notion about using our sleek digital devices in place of 3D friends is that many people begin to respond to virtual personalities like they are people. We are psychologically attracted to electronic characters that are smart, witty, and always there for us, especially when they have a pleasant voice. It’s important to balance our 2D and 3D worlds with time in each, lest either become dominant.

Aha Moments and Better Mousetraps

We are not losing memory to our devices. We are simply changing the way we approach recall, including a virtual friend in our inner circle. That friend often provides quicker, more thorough answers to our questions. As long as we remember how important it is to build a strong knowledge base in our 3D brains, with ready use of math, science, technology, and history, our use of 2D resources will continue to help us achieve breakthrough discoveries that contribute to higher IQs and more intelligent humans.