Digital dependence is ‘eroding our memories’

Excessive reliance on the internet and search engines for fact finding is damaging our long-term memories as well as compromising IT security, a new study has found.

Fuelled by an increasingly connected world that is always online, we no longer hold in our minds information we can store and retrieve from a digital device or the Internet, causing what the report has termed Digital Amnesia.

Crucially, it found that one of the far-reaching consequences of a failure to make use of our existing stored memories – for example by preferring to search online – can ultimately result in their dilution or disappearance.

The study, which involved 6,000 consumers aged 16 and up from across Europe, found that when faced with a question, over a third will head straight to the internet for an answer, rising to 40 per cent of those aged 45 and over.

Amost a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents admit they would forget the online answer as soon as they had used it, rising to 27 per cent of those aged 45 and over, with 12 per cent assuming the information will always be out there somewhere.

Dr Maria Wimber, a pyschology lecturer at the University of Birmingham, said that the trend of looking up information  “prevents the build-up of long-term memories”.

She added: “Our brain appears to strengthen a memory each time we recall it, and at the same time forget irrelevant memories that are distracting us.

“Past research has repeatedly demonstrated that actively recalling information is a very efficient way to create a permanent memory.”

The report’s finding that many people rely on computers instead of memorising information was highlighted by the fact that many of those questioned could still recall their own phone numbers from childhood, but did not know the current numbers of family members or their place of work.

The report also found that IT security can be an early casualty of our impatience to access information online. Kaspersky Lab, the cybersecurity firm which carried out this study, has found that just under a fifth (18 per cent) of consumers – 22 per cent of those aged up to 24 – will opt for speed over protection when downloading files.

This leaves the door wide open for malicious software intent on stealing personal data and compromising the device and any other devices connected to it.

If consumers haven’t protected their data, their online accounts and devices with strong passwords and data back-ups, the memories and information these hold could be lost or damaged forever.

Of course, digi.me users can protect their data (if not their actual memories!) as regular back-ups will ensure that all their social media history remains in their digi.me app on their desktop, safe, secure and always available.

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