We Are Becoming “Memoryless”
Updated: Jul 11
By: Violeta Dólera - TeensForHope Blog Writer/Project Lead
Image courtesy: Shutterstock
As teenagers, we often hear adults advising us to stop being on our phones 24/7, and even though we know the countless reasons on why we should stop: anxiety and depression being the most common mental health disease related to Internet addiction, self-esteem and loneliness problems, fitting into beauty standards, wrong role models as examples for kids at a very young age, even eating disorders derived from social media, among many other terrible ones, it seems like they are not enough. So, today I'm adding another one to the list, which I’m sure is a big concern for many, its effects on memory.
The Internet is the antagonist of this story. With its help, we are able to expand our education and knowledge with one click, but to what point is this absolutely beneficial? And what happens when this becomes our only reliable source for information? Several studies about the effect of the Internet on the brain's structure, function, and cognitive development have been made, using psychological, psychiatric, and neuroimaging.
The research of the University of Illinois in association with the University of California discovered that 30% of people who answered trivia questions relied on Google as well to answer subsequent easier ones, had serious problems with memory. They named it “Cognitive Offloading” (the increase in the tendency of relying on the Internet as a memory aid). One of the lead researchers, Dr. Benjamin Storm concluded “As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.”
Another research in which participated the University of Sydney, Harvard University, University of Oxford, King's College, and the University of Manchester have discovered that as we rely more on Google to remember trivial facts, specific areas of cognition in our brain are harmed, affecting our abilities of problem-solving, learning, recalling, attentional capacities, and even social interactions. Some of their main concerns included our tendency to develop a “divided attention”, the effect on kids, and social interactions. Factors responsible for this would be Internet notifications decreasing our capacity for keeping a concentration on a single and simple task, risk of cyberbullying, addictive behaviors, or even exploitation to children with an unestablished screen-time. To this, Director of Research at NICM Health Research Institute, Professor Jerome Sarris, suggested mindfulness, focus practice, and “Internet Hygiene”, which refers to the reduction of online multitasking, screen time boundaries, and increase of in-person interaction.
These studies remind me of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) caused by repetitive head trauma in American Football players, which also shows us how something that looks so trivial can end up affecting our brains and daily lives at a big scale. I believe this is a topic that should be taken more seriously and I’m so grateful that there are platforms like Neurogram using the Internet in an adequate way to spread awareness and giving others the opportunity to use their voices to contribute as well. If you want to learn more about the different types of mental health diseases produced from technology excess, and their effects at a neurological level, and their treatments, check out their Anxiety post on their Instagram page!
Saube, Jenna, “Excessive Internet usage can lead to anxiety, depression”, Kansas State Collegian, 26 Jan 2012, https://www.kstatecollegian.com/2012/01/26/excessive-Internet-usage-can-lead-to-anxiety-depression/
“Cognitive Offloading: How the Internet is Increasingly Taking Over Human Memory”, NeuroscienceNews.com, 16 Aug 2016, https://neurosciencenews.com/memory-Internet-cognition-4854/
Saube, Jenna, “Excessive Internet usage can lead to anxiety, depression”, Kansas State Collegian, 26 Jan 2012, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190605100345.htm
NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, "How the Internet may be changing the brain", ScienceDaily, 5 June 2019, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/06/190605100345.htm