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Smartphone use drives digital amnesia

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The “Google Effect”, which is the impact on our memory of being able to find information online, has extended to include important personal information and mobile devices.

A new study by Kaspersky Lab reveals that the majority of connected consumers across Europe can’t recall critical phone numbers from memory, including those of their children (53%), children’s schools (90%) and place of work (51%). Around a third could not remember their partner’s number – yet just four in 10 have forgotten their home phone numbers from when they were aged 10 to 15.

Kaspersky Lab surveyed 6 000 consumers aged 16 and older in six European countries. The findings suggest that our inability to retain important information is due to the fact that we are handing over responsibility for remembering it to digital devices such as smartphones. Just under half (43%) of the youngest consumers surveyed (16 to 24 year-olds) say that their smartphone holds almost everything they need to know or recall.

Kaspersky Lab has termed this phenomenon digital amnesia: the experience of forgetting information that you trust a digital device to store and remember for you.

The study found evidence of digital amnesia across all age groups and equally among both men and women.

Not surprisingly, the study also found that the loss or compromise of data stored on digital devices, and smartphones in particular, would leave many users devastated. Four in 10 women and the same number of 16 to 24 year-olds would be overwhelmed by sadness since they have memories stored on their devices that they believe they might never get back. One in four of both women and younger respondents would be totally frantic since their devices are the only place they store images and contact information.

So it is worrying that – despite this growing reliance on digital devices as the guardian of our memories, and the profound emotional impact of losing those memories – the study found that consumers across Europe are failing to adequately protect these devices with IT security. Smartphones and tablets are particularly poorly protected: just one in three (36%) users install extra IT security on their smartphone and only a quarter (23%) add any to their tablet. One in five (21%) don’t protect any of their devices with additional security.

“Connected devices enrich our lives but they have also given rise to Digital Amnesia. We need to understand the long term implications of this for how we remember and how we protect those memories,” says David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab. “The phone numbers of those who matter most to us are now just a click away – so we no longer bother to memorise the details.

“Further, an overwhelming 86% of those surveyed say that in our increasingly hyper-connected world people simply have too many numbers, addresses, handles etc. for them to remember even if they wanted to. We discovered that the loss or compromise of this precious information would not just be an inconvenience; it would leave many people deeply distressed.”