Our smartphones are giving us 'digital amnesia,' researchers warn. So what?

Researchers warn that using technology is making us more forgetful. But is that really such a bad thing?

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File
We trust our technology so much to the point that it may be impairing our basic memory skills, says a new study.

When’s the last time you actually memorized a friend’s phone number or address?

If you can't remember that far back, you're not the only one.

Researchers have concluded that people are suffering from “digital amnesia,” the tendency to forget information because they trust their devices to store it for them.

Of course, this idea – that relying on technology has cognitive consequences – isn’t new. For years, scientists have explained how the oversaturation of online media has curbed our attention spans and brought about “the Google effect,” when people fail to internalize information due to the fact that it’s readily available online.

But is that really such a bad thing?

The problem is that digital amnesia often stretches beyond electronically stored information, scientists say.

“The act of forgetting is not inherently a bad thing. We are beautifully adaptive creatures and we don’t remember everything because it is not to our advantage to do so,” Dr. Kathryn Mills from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience told The Telegraph. “Forgetting becomes unhelpful when it involves losing information that we need to remember.”

Ninety-one percent of people say they use the Internet as an online extension of their brain, according to a survey by the Kaspersky Lab. Forty-four percent admit that their smartphone has replaced a need to commit information to memory.

Just under half of connected adults cannot recall their partner's phone number, and that percentage rises to 71 when it comes to their children's, said the study.

Chances are that nowadays, the only number you may have memorized is a home landline that hasn’t changed in decades.

When it surveyed the 16-24 year-old age bracket, the proportion of respondents who said their smartphone held almost everything they need to know or remember went up to more than half.

Going forward, “it would be interesting to explore further whether individuals in places where the Internet is unreliable feel greater need to remember contact details or facts, or have a different perspective on information access,” Dr. Mills told WTOP News.

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