Afflicted by digital amnesia? Note these symptoms, remedies

Adapting Hindi fiction for smartphone-savvy readers.(photo:IANSLIFE)

Do you have a busy schedule? Are you someone who tends to forget about a chore you did earlier? After a trip, do you struggle to remember the names of the places you visited? Do you struggle to remember how to do a work? If you are experiencing memory loss in a way that affects your daily life, studies, work, friendships, etc., beware of the latest mental health problem that might have affected you. It is called digital amnesia!

Those who rely too much on digital devices such as smartphones to search for important information, such as phone numbers, meeting dates, names, dates, etc, are more likely to suffer from digital amnesia according to a new study.

Beware of those who use screen devices for more than two hours a day. People who spend a lot of time on a digital device avoiding social interactions such as weddings, and spending time with friends are also more likely to develop digital amnesia. Likewise, depriving sleep due to the regular use of smartphones will lead to poor memory.

In this modern age, many things that the human brain should perform are handed over to digital devices. Smartphones are digital devices that we use for many things like adding numbers, collecting phone numbers, and searching for information. As their use increased, the utilization of brain power also reduced.

Earlier most of us knew by heart the phone numbers of at least ten people. At a time when only land phones were around, you had to memorise the phone numbers. When it became possible to store numbers on a smartphone, the brain stopped using that ability. So much so that even during an emergency, it became impossible to remember the numbers. In fact, most people are even unable to remember and type the OTP numbers which are only 4 or 6 digits long.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we forget the information collected by a digital device or smartphone. Digital amnesia is the name given to this and the ongoing forgetfulness problems of this habit.

According to a study conducted on 6,000 consumers by the Russia headquartered Kaspersky Lab, it was found that the use of digital screen devices, including smartphones, affects memory. They were the first ones to call this condition digital amnesia.

How the phone affects

Knowledge is the acquisition and application of information through thought, experience, and the senses. But today's overload of information at our fingertips often impairs attention and prevents long-term memory formation.

When we rely heavily on digital devices to acquire information, the brain puts much less effort into retaining that acquired knowledge. Therefore, the device itself must be relied upon to recall the same knowledge later.

Take book reading, for instance. When you read a book, a visual is formed in your brain. Each reader will have their own mental images created by the brain. New neurons will be formed for it. But you don’t need to exercise your brain that much while viewing through a digital device, that’s when the researchers estimate that the level of certain knowledge information also decreases. This forms a pattern and in general, the brain becomes sluggish and less focused in situations where things really need to be done. This results in forgetfulness in daily life. This is the cause of digital amnesia.

In Korea, they did a comparative study on school children who read printed books and e-books. It was found that children who read printed books showed a capacity to understand and memorise the content deeply.

Lack of sleep

It is during sleep that synaptic pruning separates old knowledge and codifies new knowledge so that it can be retrieved. But this process due to lack of sleep can lead to forgetfulness. In short, excessive use of smartphones can seriously affect sleep. Severe stress can cause mental disorders or forgetfulness. This is dissociative amnesia that makes you forget stuff about yourself. This can be mistaken for digital amnesia.

How to prevent memory loss

Now digital amnesia is also very common in children and adults. For children, this has been shown to reduce the quality of learning. According to the instructions from the Indian Academy of Paediatricians, children below the age of 2 should completely avoid the use of smartphone screens. Teenagers and children between the age of 5 and ten should limit their use to less than an hour a day.

Here are some tips to avoid digital amnesia in adults.

» Consciously practice retaining small and important information, skills, and memory.

» Cultivate your reading habit.

» Practise brain development exercises. For example, read short stories and try to recall them. Try to memorise phone numbers.

» Make sure you discontinue the use of your mobile phones at least 30 minutes before going to sleep.

» Sleep at the right time daily.

» At first observe a screen-free day once every two weeks and then at least once a week.

(Dr Abraham Bose is consultant clinical psychologist, Bishop Vayalil Hospital, Idukki)

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