Millennials and (Their Lack of) Memories

Thanks to modern technological advances and Google at our fingertips, studies have shown that Millennials have just as bad memory as senior citizens. And why should we bother remembering anything? If we need to know information, it’s just a click of a button away. Sometimes, we don’t even need to click a button. We can just say, “Hey Siri,” or “Alexis…what’s the powerhouse of a cell?” Mid-conversation, tip-of-the-tongue moments are followed by, “Gimme a second, let me Google that.” Technology has created an environment where the need to remember and create memories is becoming obsolete.

On average, most people check their smartphones 47 times a day, and double that if they’re between the ages of 18 and 24. (1) When Larry Rosen, a psychologist at California State University, Dominguez Hills, used an app to monitor how often college students unlocked their phones. The students checked their phones an average of 60 times a day, each session lasting about three to four minutes for a total of 220 minutes a day. (2)  220 minutes a day equates to approximately 4 hours just spent on smartphones.

Because our eyes are glued to our screens, we are having difficulty processing the information we take in to form simple memories. Smartphones alter the way we walk (please look up when you’re crossing streets), talk (using acronyms daily), and think (not sure if we even do that anymore, all I do is quote @overheardla).

If you think about it, we have a pretty intimate relationship with our phones. We sleep with them, eat with them, and have them in our pockets. We laugh with them, talk to them, and they sometimes join us in the bathroom. Imagine your phone being a boyfriend or girlfriend that you do everything with. Wouldn’t that drive you insane? If my phone was a person, this would be the longest relationship I’ve ever had, and that’s quite pathetic. I may break it, drop it in pools, and sometimes spill my coffee on it, but it hasn’t broken up with me yet so there’s that…

Image result for sleeping holding phone

But the more we love and use our phones, the less we are able to love and learn about people and the world around us. How can we be present when we have our phones glued to our faces? How can we interact with our world if we’re lost in the World Wide Web? The technosphere is great, don’t get me wrong. I can find out the weather, read books, check my mail, and read the news. I can call my friends from back home and my family. I can check my Instagram and see what my friends are doing. I have the gate to a digital world in the palm of my hands, and the key to it is my thumbprint. I have this entire world ready and waiting for me to take in all of its unearthly wonders, but at the cost of losing myself in the physical world I live in.

“We are information-seeking creatures,” says neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco. “We are driven to it in very powerful ways.” Smartphones have become much more than simple tools of communication they started off as. They have opened dangerous doors that lead to the internet-of-things (IoT), mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Venmo, virtual reality (VR), and more.

Despite the realizations that phones are distracting us from being present, they’ve become such a seemingly integral part of our lives that we just can’t stop picking up these soul-sucking devices. It’s a habit, an addiction, and a disease that’s designed to psychologically capture and retain our interests that just so happens to be hurting the ability for Millennials to retain information and remember small details.

Recent studies have shown that Millennials between the ages 18 to 34 are more likely than those 55 or older to forget what day it is, where they put their keys, forget to bring their lunch, or even to take a bath or shower. (3) Our intelligence hinges on our ability to transfer information from working memory to long-term memory. When facts and experiences enter our long-term memory, we are then able to weave them into complex ideas that make us the thoughtful, intuitive beings we used to be. (4)(Graphic: Business Wire)Technology hinders our ability to create memories in many ways:

  • Information Overload: When the working memory experiences digital overload, we lose the information that just came in, and it’s constantly being replaced. We can only remember what we already know in that moment. There’s too much information available that we can’t make sense of what we have on hand.

 “It’s like having water poured into a glass continuously all day long, so whatever was there at the top has to spill out as the new water comes down. We’re constantly losing the information that’s just come in — we’re constantly replacing it, and there’s no place to hold what you’ve already gotten. It makes for a very superficial experience; you’ve only got whatever’s in your mind at the moment. And it’s hard for people to metabolize and make sense of the information because there’s so much coming at them and they’re so drawn to it. You end up feeling overwhelmed because what you have is an endless amount of facts without a way of connecting them into a meaningful story.” (5)

  • Inability to Store Memory: Because technology has made it easier to recall facts, we are losing the ability to remember information, and it’s getting harder and harder to do so.
  • Constant Distractions: If we can’t focus on a single thought without getting distracted, how are we going to take the time to remember it? Attention is the key to forming new memories and we’re living in a world full of distractions.
  • Loss of Big Picture: Millennials are losing sight of the big picture. An over-reliance on technology has a tendency to encourage us to isolate pieces of information without fitting them into a broader cognitive schema. But the broader cognitive schema is what we need to help ourselves remember the smaller details.

Another factor of diminishing memory is rising stress levels, which can also be due to constant connectivity. High stress levels often lead to forgetfulness, depression, and poor judgment. Millennials are professional multi-taskers when it comes to using technology, but this often leads to lack of sleep and increases levels of forgetfulness. Technology also affects our ability to get a good night’s rest. With artificial light from televisions and computer screens affecting melatonin production, and throwing off our circadian rhythms, technology usage prevents deep, restorative sleep which also affects our ability to create long-term memories.

Studies have found:

  • Heavy cell phone use showed an increase in sleep disorders in men and an increase in depressive symptoms in both men and women.
  • Those constantly accessible via cell phones were the most likely to report mental health issues.
  • Men who use computers intensively were more likely to develop sleeping problems.
  • Regular, late night computer use was associated with sleep disorders, stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women.
  • Frequently using a computer without breaks further increases the risk of stress, sleeping problems and depressive symptoms in women.
  • A combination of both heavy computer use and heavy mobile use makes the associations even stronger. (6)

There is a growing trend between technology use and negative health symptoms. Some researchers even believe that this is public health hazard and should be acknowledged and addressed by both the medical community and technology industry. (7)

So what can we do to combat this new public health hazard?

  • “No Cell Zones” in households: Create a space where phones aren’t allowed. Whether it’s the dining room, the kitchen, or the bedroom.
  • Phones off the table during meals: Meals can be a time to talk and connect with your friends and family. Use this precious time to be present in the moment without any cellular distractions.
  • Phone etiquette: If you must look at your phone while you’re in the middle of a conversation, announce that are doing so. It demonstrates courtesy and indicates to your partner that you are aware your attention is shifting.
  • Stick to a bedtime routine: Getting a full 8 hours rest will give your brain time to digest all the information it took in that day and helps with long-term memory creation.
  • Before bedtime, do activities that will promote sleepiness: Read a book, take a bubble bath. Find some way to relax.
  • Exercise regularly: Fresh air and exercise help reduce stress levels. Go for a walk or a run, and enjoy the world you live in.
  • Stay away from caffeine at night: Caffeine will only keep you up and have your mind racing. Enjoy your last cup of coffee early in the afternoon and opt for some calming tea closer to bedtime.

Nothing is irreversible. All you have to do is recognize the problem at hand, and work to make changes. Millennials don’t have to have just as bad memory as senior citizens, they just have to be willing to put down their phones and pay attention.