Remember the good ol’ pre-smartphone days, when you and your friends would be discussing a random celebrity or pop-culture event, and someone would ask, “What was his name again?” or “What movie was she in?” You’d spend the next half-hour debating this and that, occasionally landing on the correct answer, sometimes not. But that was then, this is now.
We live in an era of instant knowledge gratification; we can find out pretty much anything immediately. The world is at our fingertips, or, more specifically, at the ends of our fingertips as we type on our phones. And it’s making us dumber.
“This urge for the fastest possible access to information, combined with a reluctance to remember it afterwards, has far-reaching implications for both our long-term memories and for the IT security of the devices we depend on,” UK cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab said in a statement, after publishing a report called “How to Survive in the ‘Digital Amnesia’ World.”
“Our brain appears to strengthen a memory each time we recall it, and at the same time forget irrelevant memories that are distracting us,” said Dr. Maria Wimber, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s School of Psychology.
“Past research has repeatedly demonstrated that actively recalling information is a very efficient way to create a permanent memory. In contrast, passively repeating information (i.e. by repeatedly looking it up on the internet) does not create a solid, lasting memory trace in the same way.”
In other words, we’re not recalling memories anymore, instead relying on our phones to tell us those “little things” we’ve forgotten. A perfect example is the myriad of phone numbers we used to memorize and use daily — nowadays, the majority of us have one or two numbers in our memories, but that’s it.
In Kaspersky’s study, 71 per cent of the cell phone users could not recite their children’s phone numbers. Almost half of them (49 per cent) couldn’t even recall their partner’s. That is truly a sad state of affairs. So what can you do to sharpen your brain?
Do some crosswords on the regular
Crosswords: not just for old people any more! Not only does it test your word and trivia knowledge, but if you do them day over day or week over week, you’ll notice that a lot of the clues repeat themselves, thereby forcing you to use your memory to recall the correct answer. No cheating and using your phone!
Learn to play a musical instrument
If you already play one, kudos! If not, learning how is a major challenge for the ol’ noggin. Not only do you need to develop the ability to read music, but you will eventually need to memorize techniques and entire musical pieces.
Read a section of a newspaper/website/magazine you normally skip
Reading something you’re entirely unfamiliar with triggers regions of the brain that are underused, and you’ll be amazed how well you can remember facts and information about topics you know so little about! Try quizzing yourself hours later on what you read to maximize retention.
When you’re out with friends and the aforementioned situation arises, don’t check your phone. Don’t look online. Try using your own memory to come up with the answer to whatever you’re talking about. If you can’t, then leave it. It’s OK. You’ll remember that feeling of not knowing. It’s from the mid-’90s.
Whatever you do, DON’T waste your time with brain-training programs
Lumosity, Elevate, Mindful, CogniFit … you’ve heard of them and seen their convincing commercials. The bad news is: they don’t work. According to Psychology Today, brain-training programs and apps are entirely bogus. A meta-analysis of 23 studies on the programs showed that most of said “training” did indeed produce short-term, highly specific improvements in the task at hand, but no generalized improvements to overall intelligence, memory, attention, or other cognitive ability. If you enjoy the games, by all means continue. But don’t necessarily believe the hype.
For more info on smartphones and their effect on our brains, check out the video, above. Then go do a crossword.