Digital Amnesia: How your tablet is damaging your memory

11 July 2016 -


Almost half of business people admit to missing out on valuable information when attempting to record notes on a digital device, according to a study by Kaspersky Lab

Jermaine Haughton

Have you ever written a letter and conversed with a colleague at the same time? Or replied to an email while simultaneously thinking about the next item on your to-do list?

For most managers, the answer is yes. And with the advent of new technologies that let us juggle screens and multitask to the max, the temptation to try and do more than one task at a time is appealing.

The process of recording information - from taking minutes, taking down key points from conversations and noting down ideas - through mobile technology has been simplified for workers, with an array of multi-faceted notetaking, voice recording and typing apps currently on the market.

Unfortunately, multitasking makes it more difficult for individuals to organise thoughts and filter out irrelevant information, and it reduces the efficiency and quality of our work.

A University Of London study showed that subjects who multitasked while performing cognitive tasks experienced significant IQ drops, comparable to the decline experienced by individuals who skip a night of sleep or who smoke marijuana.

While people may believe that they can type and listen properly at the same time, scientific evidence shows they can’t. In fact, our brains actually slow down because the stress hormone cortisol is released each time our brain shifts attention with each task we carry out.

Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and an expert on divided attention, said: “Our brains are not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly.

“And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”

Commissioned by Kaspersky Lab, new research provides further evidence that employees overestimate their ability to multi-task and how a subsequent overreliance on technology leaves their organisations open to malicious threats.

In particular, the report connects this issue with Digital Amnesia, the experience of forgetting information you entrust to a digital device, which has significant impact in the workplace, and gives rise to the prospect of large amounts of confidential and important business information being held on potentially insecure devices, and as the only record.

Highlighting both the presence and impact of Digital Amnesia in the work environment, the study found that 44% of businessmen and women report missing out on valuable contextual, emotional or behavioural clues that are vital for accurate understanding when typing notes into a digital device.

Worryingly, more than an eighth (13%) of respondents confess to losing a digital record and finding themselves unable to remember a word of what was said.

Many professionals are willing to sacrifice active listening for the ease of typing a quick, real-time record of a meeting or presentation, with nearly half (46%) believing the factual accuracy of typed and stored notes is more important than the nuance of conversation.

A further two-thirds (67%) of those surveyed claimed the ability to backup and share digital notes made them more dependable than relying on the personal memory of a conversation.

Dr Gorkan Ahmetoglu, lecturer of Business Psychology at University College London, said that the context in which individuals listen to information can be key to how well we retain and later use it.

“Human memory is limited,” he said. “The disadvantage with simply listening, and relying on memory, is that transferring something from short term ‘working memory’ to long-term memory is difficult and success depends on how well we understand the topic being discussed.

“If the information is unfamiliar or we don’t quite grasp it, noting as much as possible down on a digital device means it can be used to review and build our understanding later.”

The greatest risk of leaving a conversation entirely in the memory of a digital device is that this information is vulnerable to loss, theft or cyber-attack; in which case the record could be lost forever.

Professor Richard Benham, visiting professor in cyber security management at Coventry University, said that many employees are the ‘weak link’, damaging their organisation due to their naivety in using digital devices to carry out tasks and poor cyber security training.

Seemingly, the poor preparation and knowledge regarding this issue is prevalent among the upper echelons of businesses as well, with The Global State of Information Security Survey 2016 reporting that nearly 10% of UK respondents said they didn’t know how many attacks they had been subjected to and 14% did not know how they had happened


David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, said: “There may be increasing tolerance in the workplace for people having to check their devices for details, but few will appreciate having to hold a meeting for a second time as people can’t remember what was said. Digital Amnesia in the workplace represents a risk – but also an opportunity. It reminds us that devices and people work best when they work in partnership, one capturing the facts, the other the feelings that give them meaning.

“Protecting all devices that are used to support memories and understanding should be a priority for businesses of all sizes and in all sectors.”

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