Smartphones are destroying our memory. The big question is should we care

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“I can’t do anything for more than fifteen minutes without looking at my phone.” Starting with that phrase, a few weeks ago we went through the problems and anxieties of a generation that lives “eternally confused.” The echo of the report has been profound and has led us to ask ourselves a question: Beyond the anecdote, beyond the general feeling… is it possible that this lack of concentration is having long-term effects on our memory, our attention and in our cognitive abilities?


Are cell phones changing us? Is the internet changing us? The debate is not so much whether memory (attention or other cognitive abilities) change with the use of mobile devices. That is trivial. they change, wow if they change. And not only do they change functionally, they also do so at a structural level and at all levels. the same screens have substantially changed our somatosensory cortex; that is, they have changed the way we touch the world.

Nor should we forget that, as Manuel Sebastián, a researcher at the Brain Mapping Unit of the Complutense University, explained to us, “we know that the text that includes links (hypertext) seems to be remembered worse in general, which is totally logical because they constitute distractors and the role of attention is critical in recall.”

An eternally unfocused generation: "I can't do anything for more than fifteen minutes without looking at my phone"

Changes, changes and more changes. This has important implications as we work in virtually highly enriched environments and, for the fact of beingThey prevent us from processing and make it difficult for us to concentrate. And without concentration, memories become brittle. This occurs at very basic levels that also affect the memories we already have: when we choose to Google the information instead of trying to remember it we are preventing that this type of information passes into our memory.

But hey, this is normal.. “The fact that information is processed differently is not necessarily a bad thing,” Sebastian told us. Our brain he spends his life rearranging) and information technologies have been affecting us since the first pictograms. In fact, as pointed out in The Observer, Chris Bird, professor of cognitive neuroscience in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex, “We have always downloaded things to external devices, like writing notes, and that has allowed us to have more complex lives. I have no problem with using external devices to augment our thought or memory processes. We’re doing it more, but that frees up time to concentrate, focus and remember other things.”

The problem is the consequences that can have. The problem is to know if all these positive consequences can have some associated problem. The clearest example is the hippocampus. This area of ​​the brain is closely related to spatial orientation. In fact, the idea that London taxi drivers have it overdeveloped is commonplace in the world of neuroscience. But what happens if we stop needing to orient ourselves? What happens if we start to resort to mobile maps disproportionately and the hippocampus ends up underdeveloped?

Above all, because in the brain there is rarely something that has only one use. Oliver Hardtfrom McGill University in Montreal, said that “Reduced gray matter density in this area of ​​the brain is accompanied by a variety of symptoms, such as increased risk of depression and other psychopathologies, but also certain forms of dementia.” We are far from having a causal relationship, but if hart is right “the cost of this could be a huge increase in dementia” (and, in the long run, Alzheimer’s). This with a growing world populationyes that is a problem.

Some consequences we are investigating… The problem, as always, is that it is not easy to know what we are talking about. In the US there is A study which is following more than 10,000 children year after year to find out exactly how the mobile phone affects neurocognitive development. The first studies they are clear: There is a relationship between cortical thinning and technology. What we don’t know for sure is what that means. Above all, because this weight loss is something that arises naturally over time; that is, we don’t know if they are maturing earlier, or aging faster.

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…but that has won us the hand. After all, the mobile phone (computing in general) has taken over the world. It is everywhere, everywhere: there are very few people who are not involved in this great mass social experiment. What happens if we discover that what we lose through the use of technology is not compensated as has happened historically until now? It is true that, for now, there is no solid data that forces us to face that question; but the day when we have to take action on the matter seems closer and closer.

A few years ago, the philosopher Antonio Diéguez defended that the idea that “you can’t put doors on the field” in relation to technology was more of a political, self-serving, public relations, and cross-interest message than reality. That seems to be the great challenge of today: to develop the necessary social mechanisms to regain control over what is good or bad for ourselves.

Image | Mika Baumeister

“I can’t do anything for more than fifteen minutes without looking at my phone.” Starting with that phrase, a few…

“I can’t do anything for more than fifteen minutes without looking at my phone.” Starting with that phrase, a few…

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