When was the last time you memorized a phone number?
No really, think about it. Besides your own number, how many can you even remember by heart now?
It’s probably fewer than you’d like — and you’re not alone. Out of more than 1,000 American’s surveyed for a report from cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab released Wednesday, more than half said they couldn’t recall the phone numbers of their friends and neighbors. And 44 percent said they couldn’t remember their sibling’s numbers.
But why would they? What’s the point of filling your head with phone numbers if they’re all stored in a smartphone that’s with you almost all the time?
So instead, we’re replacing the ability to recall specifics with the certainty that we have them stored somewhere or can look them up online later — a sort of digital amnesia. In fact, more than 90 percent of those surveyed for the Kaspersky report agreed that “they use the Internet as an online extension of their brain.”
Of course, this isn’t just about phone numbers. Rote memorization was once a staple of modern education: Students were taught the names of the presidents in order and all the names of state capitals — or even to draw a map of the United States from memory like Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.).
But now, that information is just a click or swipe away. And that’s making us worse at remembering things, according to academic research on the topic.
One journal article, published in Science in 2011, found that when people expect to have access to information online they are less likely to remember the actual facts, but more likely to remember how to find them.
In effect, we are already becoming one with the machine: “We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found,” according to the Science article.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing — maybe it gives us more mental processing power to think through things. And we certainly have access to more knowledge now than ever, even if it’s not all stored in our brains.
But there are risks to this brave new world of memory outsourcing beyond losing our ability to recall who the 15th President was. (James Buchanan, just in case you were about to Google it.)
That kind of information may always be a click away, but the important things — the personal things, like way your mom smiled at your wedding — you want to remember might be harder to recall or find online. And if you’re relying on your own archive of pictures or documents to keep track of those memories, the consequences of a lost, stolen or hacked hard drive are much more meaningful.