Digital amnesia: Mobile phones deprive users of memory skills

Reuters / Zoran Milich
A lot of people prefer to store information in their mobile phones instead of keeping it in their heads, a new study from Kaspersky Lab reports; thus the loss or breakdown of a mobile phone can be a disaster for modern people.

While mobile phones and other devices are increasingly essential in our lives and often the main place we store all our information and manage our daily schedules, Kaspesky lab has published a study attempting to uncover how modern technologies affect human memory skills.

Kaspersky lab surveyed 6,000 users aged 16 and older in eight European countries. The results showed that 49 percent of UK respondents do not remember their parents’ telephone numbers, 57 percent haven’t memorized the number for their place of work, 71 percent of parents can’t dial their children off the top of their head, and 87 percent don’t know the number of their children’s schools by heart. On the other hand, 47 percent can recite the phone numbers they had when they were between age 10 and 15, likely before devices had such large memories.

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The study also reveals that some groups become more distressed than others when information on their devices is lost, with 44 percent of women and 40 percent of users between the ages of 16 and 24 becoming “overwhelmed by sadness.” Moreover, 25 percent of females and 38 percent of younger users would become totally frantic in such an event, given that their phones or tablets are the only place their images and contacts are saved.

Researchers from Kaspresky Lab called that phenomenon “digital amnesia.”

Forgetting information is not always a bad thing. Like the storage capacity of a digital device, human memory is not limitless. If we do not use particular information, it will gradually fade until we forget it. The human brain can also overwrite outdated bits of data with more topical ones.

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“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,” said Dr. Kathryn Mills, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London, PR Newswire informs.

The problem is, however, that people do not pay enough attention to the security of their devices, which increases the risk of losing information, the study says. Only 27 percent of respondents install extra security on their smartphones and 23 percent on their tablets, while 22 percent people do not use additional security for any of their devices.

“Connected devices enrich our lives but they have also given rise to Digital Amnesia. We need to understand the long term implications of this for how we remember and how we protect those memories,” concluded David Emm, Principal Security Researcher, Kaspersky Lab.