NOV 10, 2015 04:56 AM PST

Is Technology Stealing Our Brain Power?

Can you pass this memory test? Without looking at your cell phone write down the phone numbers of your two closest friends or family members.  Did you get them right? A study done by Kapersky Labs suggests that many people could not recall this most basic information.  Why? Most of us keep this kind of information on a smartphone. To call a friend or send a text we merely need to find that person’s picture or name in the phone and push a button. Perhaps not even that much effort is required. With an iPhone you can simply tell Siri, “Call Mom” and the phone does all the work.
Are we handing our brains over to smartphones?

For the study, which was included in a report called “The Rise and Impact of Digital Amnesia” Kaspersky Labs surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 16 and older across the country and asked them how and where their important information like phone numbers, email addresses and photos were stored.  44% of people responded that they keep almost all of their contacts and other vital information on their digital devices.  The resulting inability to remember phone numbers and other personal information is now known as digital amnesia and apparently, it’s widespread. 
The concept is similar to what’s come to be known as the “Google Effect.” In a 2011 study done at Columbia University, researchers discovered that when participants were asked to do a simple Internet search to find the answer to a relatively easy question, they were not likely to remember the information, but were very likely to remember where it was found.  If the information was more difficult to find and the search was more involved, the opposite was true. They would remember the information they had searched for, but were not likely to remember where they found it. 
The Google Effect study was groundbreaking in 2011, but subsequent studies have found similar results. Rather than using the brain as the main storage for learned material, memories and information, that task is now delegated to a digital device and the brain drain shows. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information the average attention span is now 8.25 seconds. In 2000 it was 12 seconds. For comparison, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.
The Kapersky study also showed that over half of the survey participants said they would be “overwhelmed” with sadness if they lost the information and photos they keep on their phones. In a press release about the study, Kapersky Labs quoted Dr. Kathryn Mills at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London who said, 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. Forgetting becomes unhelpful when it involves losing information that we need to remember. One of the reasons consumers might be less worried about remembering information is because they have connected devices that they trust. In many societies, having access to the Internet feels as stable as having access to electricity or running water.”   In other words, we don’t bother to remember information because there’s usually an app for that.
Take a look at the video below to learn more about this new form of forgetfulness.
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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