Digital Amnesia

In addition to the issue of ‘bit rot’ (see previous post), there is also the very interesting issue of ‘digital amnesia’:

[where] people are ready to forget important information in the belief that it can be immediately retrieved from a digital device.

BBC News recently discussed a European study which found “[a]n over-reliance on using computers and search engines is weakening people’s memories”.

You can read the full article here.

I have often wondered about how our brains are affected by our ability, and propensity, to constantly seek answers without thought or contemplation – the ‘just Google it’ phenomena. Rather than considering how to solve a problem or trying to recall something we may know about, we automatically turn to the Internet for a quick answer. According to this study, this type of information is much more easily forgotten, and this has a long-term impact in the development of our memories.

In a nutshell, because we are not using our brains to recall information, we are not creating long-term permanent memories. Passively repeating the information by reading it on a screen, rather than the deeper recalling of it from our memory banks, means we do not encode the information in the same way, and it is thus easily forgotten.

They use the example of phone numbers, and I found it to be true for myself as well. Years ago, I knew my parents mobile numbers and most of my friends numbers off by heart. These days, I can barely remember our home phone number and my own mobile number. I don’t even know my boyfriend (of many years) mobile number. I haven’t bothered repeating the information or trying to recall it from my memory when its just so easy to open my mobile and copy it from there.

So then; if we as people are less able/willing to remember and recall information, along with the risk of information being lost from bit rot (becoming unreadable/unusable from rapid changes in technology) – what will happen to our knowledge and history? Will this generation’s information be forever lost in years to come?

I know I’ll be trying that little bit harder to think about an answer before I immediately revert to asking Professor Google…

Thanks for reading,

Michelle De Aizpurua


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