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Digital amnesia: Is your device controlling your memory?

Remember when you could recite your primary school BFF’s home phone number, but now you can’t memorise your own mobile number? Is your reliance on technology slowing down your brain?  

Today our schedules, ideas, memories and even relationships exist online. In the 21st century digital minefield of social media, instant messaging, 360 degree videos, audio AI and now, facial recognition on the new iPhone X, our devices store and communicate more information than our own brains. Therefore, it’s not surprising the average person spends almost three hours on their smartphone and two on a laptop (Google 2019). A massive 73% of adults access the internet on the go, and that’s only smartphone usage.

This phenomenon of forgetting the details because you trust a device to store and remember them for you is called Digital Amnesia, or ‘the Google Effect’. Cyber security giants Kaspersky did some in-depth research into its effect in 2015 and found devices not only effect our memory, but they also have negative impact on our concentration levels and emotional connections. It’s not all negative though, Kaspersky realise this synergy between the human brain and digital stratosphere allows us to ‘evolve, learn, remember, think and create more effectively.’ In fact, they found creativity benefits from Digital Amnesia – letting go of pointless, daily details allows abstract thoughts space to flourish.

While it is too extreme to even think about leaving technology behind forever – particularly when it is integral to both work and home interaction – here are three manageable tips to make you a more aware of your Digital Amnesia:

  1. Let’s start small: turn off your notifications

Turning off your notifications allows you to put yourself in control of when you are disrupted. Yes, this means Facebook, Snapchat and emails! Most devices have a ‘do not disturb’ or aeroplane mode that can be switched on and off manually when necessary. Or you can go to your settings to customise each application and even set time periods for no online interaction.

  1. Pausing before you Google an answer = reconditioning

Next time you’re asked a question, have faith in the lightbulb flashing in your head (also known as cued recall) and allow yourself time before hitting Google. The psychology behind memory is complex, but the basic state memory is made up of three core stages: recall, encoding and storage. Digital devices disrupt the whole process. If your brain becomes lazy and no longer concentrates enough to recall and encode information, storage is impossible.

  1. Now for the extreme, give yourself a digital ban

Whether it’s an hour per day, a whole day or a month-long retreat in Cambodia, it doesn’t matter, just give yourself some headspace. At first the anxiety of missing out may leave you in a dark place, but eventually you realise the world doesn’t revolve around technology. Spend your break going on a walk and taking in nature, doing an exercise class at the gym, or simply chatting to those around you. Once you have taken time off, think about ways to re-work digital into your regime.

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Whether this reliance on technology is positive or a negative comes down to personal consumption. Being digitally-savvy is an invaluable skill – particularly in the media industry – that we must possess to advance at the same rate as technology. As Kaspersky explains, our devices are fast moving towards becoming integrated extensions of our brains, therefore, having a conscious awareness of their influence on brain activity means we can adopt them in a way that’s productive and efficient, instead of over-bearing and distracting.

Words: Bethany Connor


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The UK's first Career & Lifestyle Magazine for women in the Creative and Media industries.

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