Thursday, January 21st, 2021

Is Your Phone Eroding Your Memory?

Published on October 18, 2015 by   ·   No Comments

Lloyd Alter | Mother Nature Network

smart phone

A new study finds that we cannot remember phone numbers anymore. Shocking!

Smartphones appear to be terrible things. Sherry Turkle thinks they are ruining conversation. Now the BBC writes that digital dependence is eroding human memory. They quote a recent study that asked questions to 6,000 people, and found that over a third of them would look the answer up on the Internet before responding. According to a press release from Kaspersky Lab, an Internet security firm that commissioned the study, it is a plague of “Digital Amnesia.” Maria Wimber of the University of Birmingham, who reviewed the study, notes:

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. Based on this research, it can be argued that the trend to look up information before even trying to recall it prevents the build-up of long-term memories.

The question of the effect of technology on our memories has been around for a while. I do remember that it troubled Socrates a few thousand years ago, when writing was developed; According to Plato he said:

[Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.

And then there was that Gutenberg guy, who Bill Keller of the New York Times called the Mark Zuckerberg of his day: “As we became accustomed to relying on the printed page, the work of remembering gradually fell into disuse.”

digital amnesia

Um, what was that number again? (Photo: Kaspersky Lab)

But the smartphone and the Internet! The survey found that more than half of the surveyed adult Europeans could not recall their children’s or their office phone numbers without looking into their mobile phones. Around a third were not able to remember their partner’s number. Shocking, how bad our memories have become; a lot of people they studied could remember their phone numbers from their childhood, but not their wives’s numbers now.

But there is a reason for this that goes deeper than the Internet and smartphones. In fact, remembering phone numbers has been an issue since they were invented. Originally, they were four digits tied back to a telephone exchange where the wires went. So my Grandmother’s real estate office was EMpire 8842. My parents’ number was RUssell 1-8184 as they added the number and the dash after the exchange. The Empire and the Russell were used to make it easier to remember, because who could possibly keep all those numbers in their heads? I still remember them because as a kid I had to — it was drilled into us in case we ever got into trouble and had to call home. That’s what you did, because that’s where mom was in those days.


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