How smartphones destroy our memory?

‘I can’t remember anything’ is a complaint we’ve been hearing often lately. Is it because we are too dependent on smartphones?

Have you ever missed an appointment because you forgot to set a notification on your phone, or lost your way because the map software didn’t work? Before smartphones, we could memorize a bunch of phone numbers or directions, but now, that seems no longer the case.

“Smartphone of life” has been increasing since the mid-2000s but escalated during the epidemic period. According to memory researcher Catherine Loveday’s 2021 survey, 80% of participants said their memory was worse than before the epidemic. Many people are distracted by social media, while constant page scrolling is exhausting, notifications affect how people remember things.

(Photo: The Observer)

What happens when we “outsource” part of the memory to a peripheral device? Can smartphone dependence change the way memory works? Neuroscientists have different opinions on this.

Chris Bird, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, says he has no problem using peripheral devices, such as sticky notes or phones, to store hard-to-remember information like bus tickets. Professor Oliver Hardt of McGill University is more cautious, saying that once we stop using our memory, it will get worse, causing us to use the device more. “We use them for everything. If you visit the website to find the recipe, just press a button and it will send the list of ingredients to the smartphone. It’s very convenient, but convenience comes at a price.”

According to Hardt, long-term use of GPS is associated with a decrease in gray matter density in the hippocampus in the brain, leading to a number of symptoms such as an increased risk of depression and other mental illnesses, as well as some form of dementia. GPS navigation systems do not require the user to memorize complex maps, instead, it shows them the way with a message like “Turn left at the next signal”. Not everyone knows how to read maps, so many people often depend on GPS. However, difficult actions like reading a map help us because it is involved in cognitive processes and brain structure, affecting general cognitive function.

Although smartphones open up new horizons of knowledge, they can also pull people out of reality, for example, because they “focus their heads” on screens without enjoying a beautiful day. When there is no experience, we have less recollection and limit our ability to create and come up with new ideas. As memory researcher Wendy Suzuki recently said: “If we can’t remember what we’ve done, learned, and events in our lives, we’ll change.”.

Catherine Price, writer and author of “How to Break Up with your phone,” shares the same opinion. “What we pay attention to enriches our lives. Our brains can’t multitask… If you pay attention to your phone, you won’t notice anything else. If you don’t pay attention, you won’t have any memories to remember.”

Neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian offers the proof. In a 2010 experiment, three different groups had to complete a reading. One group received the message just before starting, one group received the message while reading, the other group did not. Then there is a comprehensive test. Message recipients cannot remember what they read.

No one measured creativity before smartphones, but Price believes that overuse of smartphones can be damaging to our ability to capture and understand information deeply. To connect two unrelated things and become creative, it is imperative that we have the “raw” ingredients in our brains, just like you cannot cook without them. Psychology professor Larry Rosen agrees: “Continuous distraction makes it very difficult to decipher information in memory.”

According to the ABCD Study of 10,000 American children from childhood to adulthood, one of the most interesting early results is the association between technology use and cortical thinning. Children who use technology more often have thinner cortex, which should happen as they age. It may be associated with degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or migraines.

Apparently, the smartphone “genius” has come out of the bottle and is present around the world. We need smartphones to work, study, attend events, pay, book tickets, make calls, send emails. If we are concerned about its effects on memory, what should we do?

Psychology professor Larry Rosen offers a few strategies. For example, you do something on your phone for 1 minute and then set an alarm every 15 minutes. Turn off the ringer and turn the phone face down. Continue until you get used to the 15-minute focus time and then increase it to 20. If you can go up to 60 minutes, that’s a success.

For Price, who founded an organization Screen/Life Balance that helps people control their phone use, she believes phones really affect memory and concentration. There is no need for scientific evidence for this. If you stay away from your phone more, you will feel calmer and remember better. At that time, you will be able to answer the question yourself: how does your smartphone affect you.

Du Lam (According to The Guardian)

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