Are you having trouble remembering important information these days? Or do we even need to remember anything at all when we can look up information on our phones whenever we want? A few swipes and we can access a world of information, our friends and family, important reminders and just about anything else we may need to remember.
As it turns out, technology may be a part of the problem. Studies show that when we know technology will remember a piece of information, so we don’t have to, we’re less likely to retain the information ourselves. This might not seem like much of a problem when you’re tethered to your digital devices day in and day out. But if something happens to your advice, you may be out of luck. This reinforces the idea that we need our phones and can’t live without them. If we have to part with our phones, it can start to feel like we’re parting with part of ourselves, including our memories and the information that we’re supposed to remember.
Millennials shouldn’t have to worry about losing important memories, at least not until they reach a certain age, usually around the age of retirement. But studies show younger people are starting to forget things just as much as their grandparents.
In today’s social media-obsessed culture, we constantly feel the pressure to post about what’s going on in our lives. But capturing important moments from our life and uploading them online can make it more difficult to remember these moments down the road. A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows that posting to social media doesn’t seem to affect a person’s enjoyment of the moment at hand, but those that uploaded these moments to social media had less detailed memories of the same experience.
This shouldn’t be too surprising considering the fact that posting on social media, even if it just takes a few seconds, interrupts the experience we’re trying to capture. We’re less focused on what’s going on in front of us, so our memories will be less precise later on.
But the results of the study took things one step further. They show that any kind of externalization of the event negatively affected the person’s ability to remember, regardless of whether or not the person actually uploaded the photo to social media. Maybe they took a picture and didn’t upload it or recorded some notes of the interaction but didn’t share them with anyone. In the end, participants that recorded some aspect of their experience scored lower on the subsequent memory test. This shows that our memory lapses aren’t just related to posting, they’re related to documenting the experience in any way.
When we post to social media, weren’t not just uploading a photo or video. We’re sorting through multiple options until we find the photo that best represents the moment. Then, we have to choose certain hashtags, add a caption, tag our friends and loved ones and share the story across multiple platforms. We’re also thinking about how the post will be received, how many “likes” the post accumulates, who’s commenting and more. According to this study, focusing on anything other than what’s happening in the moment can lead to gaps in our memory.
In another study from Cornell University, we see the opposite effect. College students were asked to keep a diary of all the events they experience throughout the week. The results show that students were more likely to remember the moments they uploaded online versus the ones they kept to themselves.
So, what’s going on? In the first study, students were asked to take a memory test after the experiment with many participants forgetting key details of the event. But this new study shows us that people may be better at remembering the events they post to social media, even if they can’t recall the finite details, which would cause them to score lower on the test given in the first study.
If you’re having trouble remembering certain details of your life experiences, it’s time to put the phone down and focus on what’s happening right in front of you.
But for many of us, putting our phones down isn’t entirely feasible. Many of us feel pressure to document moments of our life for one reason or another. If you feel the need to post about a specific event, take a quick photo and wait to upload it online until after the experience is over. The less time you deviate from what’s happening in real-time, the more you’ll be able to remember later on.