'Digital amnesia': How technology could be eroding memory
Published Wednesday, October 7, 2015 1:12PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 7, 2015 2:12PM EDT
Our over-reliance on digital devices could be weakening our memory, according to research from the U.K.
In a report called "The Rise and Impact of Digital Amnesia," cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab surveyed more than 6,000 people aged 16 and older, to analyze how digital devices and the Internet affect the way information is recalled.
It found that a third of European adults will turn to the Internet for answers before they try to recall the information for themselves. Furthermore, 24 per cent will forget the information as soon as they've used it.
"This urge for the fastest possible access to information, combined with a reluctance to remember it afterwards, has far-reaching implications for both our long-term memories and for the IT security of the devices we depend on," the security firm said in a statement.
The study also found that the majority of connected consumers in the U.K. can't recall critical phone numbers including:
- Those of their children (71 per cent)
- Their children's schools (87 per cent)
- Their place of work (57 per cent)
- Their partner (49 per cent)
Dr. Maria Wimber, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology, said that our over-reliance on technology to store information may impact our ability to create a lasting memory.
"Our brain appears to strengthen a memory each time we recall it, and at the same time forget irrelevant memories that are distracting us," she said in the statement.
"Past research has repeatedly demonstrated that actively recalling information is a very efficient way to create a permanent memory. In contrast, passively repeating information (e.g. by repeatedly looking it up on the internet) does not create a solid, lasting memory trace in the same way."
Andy Walker, author and technology strategist, says that our reliance on technology isn't eroding our memory so much as it is "offloading" our memories.
Walker, who co-wrote the book "Super You: How Technology is Changing What it Means to be Human," said that, by storing information on our devices, humans are able to use their brains for other purposes.
"The reality is most of us carry around a computer, a tablet or a phone which carries 5,000 contacts for us," he told CTV News Channel, giving the example of remembering phone numbers.
"There's no need for our brain, as goo between our ears, to carry around that information. We have a technology device that does it for us."
He noted that many of us may be able to recall our childhood home phone number, but for the most part we now simply push a button on our smartphones to call someone.
"That's not getting ingrained in our brain, that's not becoming a long-term memory, so we don't have access to that," he said.
Walker stressed, however, that relying on technology to store information is not entirely negative. By using a device to store information that is not necessarily critical to remember, we are free to store other, more important information, he said.
"Our brains are being used for other things now," he said, noting, for example, that there's no way he'd be able to write his book if not for technology.
"Technology is changing the way I’m using my brain now. It's offloading the 'unskilled labour,' and putting me to the test around intellectual pursuits instead."