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Are Computers Stealing Your Memory?

timothy posted more than 13 years ago | from the don't-touch-my-visor dept.

Technology 519

alangmead writes: "According to this article in the Sunday Times an increasing number of people in their twenties and thirties are suffering from severe memory loss. Doctors blame this problem on their over relience on PDAs and computers for holding information for them. As one doctor succinctly put it, 'Young people today are becoming stupid.' I know that I rely heavily on PDAs for keeping track of things for me, but it was because I was already forgetting things. Maybe my decision to use them is rather short sighted."

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Where does memory go? (3)

ni488 (241926) | more than 13 years ago | (#454885)

cat memory >> /dev/null

I can't remember (1)

SpanishInquisition (127269) | more than 13 years ago | (#454886)


forgetfulness (5)

sirinek (41507) | more than 13 years ago | (#454887)

Look at Taco & Hemos and their frequency of posting duplicate stories, and then find out which type of PDA they're using. :)


Nice quote (5)

dirtyboot (158648) | more than 13 years ago | (#454888)

Wow, I'm inclined to trust a doctor's opinion who equates memory loss with stupidity.

IIRC, (3)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 13 years ago | (#454889)

Albert Einstein never bothered to remember menial things like phone numbers. He'd probably be a big PDA user if he was alive today.

A Better Reason . . . (3)

macsox (236590) | more than 13 years ago | (#454890)

I think my memory loss might be more related to the tendency of people my age -- smoking a lot of pot.

Memory is overrated (2)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 13 years ago | (#454921)

as Einstien used to say, never commit to memory anything that which you can write down. I used to get very upset with myself when I couldn't remember the memory map of my c64 or the hex value of every opcode. The attitude is perverse and only necessary if you plan to be stranded on a desert island with your c64. Since when has memory had any association with intelligence what-so-ever? That's sort of quiz show mentality went out in the 50's didn't it?

Memory Impaired vs. Memory Overload (2)

Captain Chad (102831) | more than 13 years ago | (#454922)

I personally used to remember every single one of my appointments. I got tired of doing it and began to write everything down. Now I make no effort to remember, but instead check my calendar every day. Does this mean I can't remember? No. It just means that I freed my brain up to work on other things.

Another observation is that this article appears to be somewhat misrepresented here at "/.". The article presents 2 different possible causes for memory loss. The first is that young people have relied too much on technology and have not exercised (my word) their brains enough. Thus, they lose their memory abilities due to the brain's equivalent of obesity. The second is that there is so very much information in today's computerized society that the brain gets overloaded and loses its ability to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Thus, people lose their memory abilites due to the brain chucking away important things and remembering unimportant things.

To borrow from the local dialect: bollocks (1)

jayhawk88 (160512) | more than 13 years ago | (#454923)

Gee, I'm glad this has been brought up, because I'm quite concerned about this new invention, paper. People are able to write things down, so they don't have to remember important information! Also, we should take a closer look at telephones. I haven't ever met my insurance agent in real life: this must be because of the telephone!

My god, this "study" is so full of holes it's laughable. A 28 year old salesman who suddenly couldn't remember where he was going, when his appointments were, or what he was even selling? And it's a computer's fault? Jeez, aren't people responsible for any of their own stupidity any more?

Shifting priorities (5)

dolanh (64212) | more than 13 years ago | (#454924)

Perhaps this is a sign of a greater shift in importance from pure memory to analytical skills. The teaching world seems by and large to have followed that.

I'm taking a math class right now and having a hard time because the prof seems to have put such a high emphasis on memorization. However, working as a programmer in lots of different environments and rapidly changing technologies, i've found that my capacity for research has helped me far more than my memory.

Too much info == not enough time to process it. The younger you are, the more info is thrown at you, and the better you get at processing it, but the less time you have to spend memorizing any of it. Information is commoditizing, and consequently becoming less valuable intrinsically as consituent parts. Those who can make sense of it in a larger view do well, and those who hang onto it will find themselves with that info and not much else when that info is no longer valid.

Simply a Shift in what we remember... (5)

Astin (177479) | more than 13 years ago | (#454925)

Please, using a PDA is no different than telling your secretary to remind you of your appointments for the day, or keeping numbers in a rolodex, or even having your secretary keep numbers in a rolodex. "Ms. Smith, please get Mr. Brown on the phone". I'm sure any programmer with a PDA can remember the syntax of all the commonly used C commands, regardless of whether they know their mother's phone number. I think that's a much more impressive feat of memory.

However, there is some relevance here. As we rely more on technology, we become more interested in things getting done, and not how they get done. For instance, many grade schools now allow calculators to be used in grade 2 to add and subtract. Only a couple lessons are spent on multiplying or division, and then it's simply plugged into the calculators. What this results in is that students get their homework done faster, and with fewer calculation mistakes, but they have NO idea why it works. When these same students hit calculus, algebra, etc, they become lost, because they don't have the basic mathematical foundations to understand the more complex ones -- they just know the calculator can do it. Society ends up with people pulling out a pocket calculator to figure out how much the tax on their big mac meal is going to be because they can't add 5% in their heads. This ignorance simply perpetuates itself. Instead of understanding how a mathematical simulation of a complex model works, it's taken for granted that some programmer correctly entered the formula they were handed. The answer pops up, it looks right, so we continue on, and then boom, a nuclear bomb goes off in Iowa.

Someone with solid basic math skills could probably make a killing by adding an extra percent to grocery, restraunt, or shopping bills, because just about anybody who checked their bills wouldn't have a clue that they were being overcharged.

The way I see it (1)

SpacePunk (17960) | more than 13 years ago | (#454926)

It doesn't seem to me as if this is a very well thought out determination. It DOES seem to me that the memory 'shortage' cuts across all boundries of people including those who's use of technology is limited due to economic or ideological influences. 'Our' generation (I'll use the 'our' here since I am 35) is one that has had exposure to more, and a wider range of, synthetics in our environment. Plastics being the largest, and most prevelent of those. There are plastics in every day use that closely resemble human hormones, such as estrogen. It's a case of "let's blame computers for something we haven't (or are to lazy) to look at deeply and scientifically."

how many of you looked at the subject (1)

washirv (130045) | more than 13 years ago | (#454927)

and thought this was a story on how computers are converting your brain cells into ram? i wonder if mine has ecc.

Lame article (1)

pruneau (208454) | more than 13 years ago | (#454928)

This is really sounding like a loch-ness article : they had some content to give, so unearthed a freak ranting against PDA.

Some common observation :

people have been complaining since Socrate that the new generation are getting less polite,educated, etc... But I'll bet that trying to be Leonard the Vinci today will really really more difficult than during the renewal...

each time a new technology hits the market, a mass movment of people scared by the unknown is going to find evidence that the new thing is harmfull, and especially for the brain. Remember reading people arguing that because of their lack of precision (finite-precision arythmetic), computer will be useless.

This article has a strong smell of urban legend. As for scientific evidences, the number of people they report is laughable.

It is not even coherent on itself : on one part, it states the risk of loosing your memory because you are not exercising it, and right after that it complains about the information overload (buzzword) and what damage it may cause.

And the poor lady that downloaded his memory into his pda, she is probably lacking some feedback loop. Because if I start to loose my memory like this, I will try do to something before loosing my work.

I read an article... (3)

jonfromspace (179394) | more than 13 years ago | (#454929)

...about this, I can't remember where though... I think it said... um... forget it, next time I'll bookmark it.

Unfair generalization (1)

sid_vicious (157798) | more than 13 years ago | (#454930)

'Young people today are becoming stupid.'

That's a completely unfair generalization. I was stupid long before I got ahold of a computer.

Some thoughts... (2)

jd (1658) | more than 13 years ago | (#454931)

  • Memory, like ALL things, improves with practice and training. Frankly, nobody's ever taught how to remember, and few have any incentive to learn.
  • The volume of information a person is exposed to is vastly greater than was the case a few decades ago. And the same was true then. Since people's brains aren't growing proportionately, some things are going to fall out.
  • PDAs, etc, allow people to record more complex information. 10 years ago, you'd probably remember a person's first name, phone number and probably use mnemonics to simplify even that. With PDAs, you can record their address, birthday details, alchohol tolerence, etc, straight-out, rather than in brain-coded form.

I'm want funding for a pointless study too! (1)

alpinist (96637) | more than 13 years ago | (#454932)

Somestimes, one in a great while, I get the sneaking suspicion that some people do these "studies" just to get their name in the media. Nah! Nobody'd do that, right?

Anyway, personally before PDA's, I had... Notepads! Yep, I wrote things down (in pencil) on a notepad I had near me 90% of the time. My memory has always been poor for little things like phone numbers, errands to run, etc. Hell, I think I picked that up from my mom who'd write down the things she needed to pick up at the store/do for the day on a piece of paper and cross things out as she completed things. So, what, a pen/pencil and paper must make you dumb too. Taking notes in class. Post-it notes. Calendars. Microcasette recorders. After all, you're relying on them as a kind of "external memory", right?

So what if people aren't dedicating more of their finite time and effort into memorizing menial details? Good for them. I thought the whole point of our technological advancement was to increase our quality of living.

Maybe the rules are different now. (1)

enochian (234583) | more than 13 years ago | (#454933)

I don't know, I started using my PDA because I was unorganized, and now I have never been more organized in my life. So I started to use it because I was already "dumb".

One other thought. I don't know how one can judge another's intelligence by that individual's inability to remember their sin or health numbers (or whatever other nations equivalents may be). I don't know them, but then I have never had a reason to. I have the cards in my wallet. I can remember other things really well. I can make my way through a *nix file system, I know the emails of my ta's... etc. This could really just be a change in society and those who have been around in the *older system* are judging intelligence with a different set of rules than the *newer system* would.


Re:A Better Reason . . . (1)

ibpooks (127372) | more than 13 years ago | (#454934)

In related news however, smoking a lot of pot does impair one's ability to ever use the shift key.

Give me a break... (4)

big.ears (136789) | more than 13 years ago | (#454935)

This story is ridiculous. Whatever pseudo-scientific principles the study is based on, you shouldn't believe the results, even if they have a couple anecdotes to back them up. There wasn't even a control condition reported! Big deal if a bunch of young people report that they have memory problems. Young people have had memory problems for thousands of years. An ancient strategy is offloading memory to external memory devices (pads of paper, pieces of string, your girlfriend, etc.). Even if they found out that younger people had greater memory problems (which they didn't), they didn't show that younger people use memory aids more than older people (from the research I've read, older people tend to use external memory cues more frequently than younger people). And even if they showed that younger people used these external memory aids more (they didn't), the correlational nature of the study does not preclude other factors from causing this, such as preservatives in our foods, radiation from household appliances, nutrasweet, drugs, alcohol, pokemon (the research was from Japan), or even new and revolutionary bedding products.

Oh well. More crap for the "information overload is a disease" pamphlets. Using external memory aids is only going to help you remember things better, so don't take the article's implicit device and throw out your datebook.

Memory Loss? (1)

Laser Lou (230648) | more than 13 years ago | (#454936)

My guess is that people nowadays can remember things fine, but their memory is not categorized, so they have a hard time recalling things. Its sort of like storing a lot of data as a linked list instead of as a tree.

MUCH more likely diet related. (2)

vorpal22 (114901) | more than 13 years ago | (#454937)

I don't mean to troll, but I really disagree with the hypothesis of the experiment.

I think the more likely culprit is nutrition and changes to the educational system more than whether or not we are using computers and PDAs.

Firstly, did you know that the amount of monosodium glutamate (a neurotoxin and flavour enhancer) and preservatives in food has been increasing by a factor of 10 every decade? This means that today's teens and 20 year olds are consuming around 10,000 times the number of preservatives and chemicals that our parents consumed, and we are consuming them often during critical mental and physical development stages. Laws go into place so that companies have to indicate monosodium glutamate on their ingredient lists so that people can avoid it if they want. You know the solution companies use to avoid this? Hide MSG in completely natural sounding ingredients like hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extracts, natural flavour, modified starches, etc... They might seem natural, but they're teeming with chemicals that our grandparents were largely not exposed to.

Who knows the long term effects of these chemicals on people? In fact, it's been shown that even in people who are not sensitive to MSG, the amount of MSG consumed, on average, in a day, overexcites and kills (fries) a large number of neurons in your hypothalamus.

Education systems have also changed. My mom went to school with the nuns and they were forced to spend long hours at night memorizing things like Shakespeare passages and such. We don't encourage that in today's education system. Memory is like a muscle; the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. Less emphasis goes on memory and more emphasis on thinking. Thus it's only natural that memory will decrease.


Use it or lose it (2)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 13 years ago | (#454938)

In a previous life, I was an air traffic controller. Since we didn't have the luxury of using PDA's to store the information we needed, we depended upon our ability to store short-term information (aircraft callsigns, requests, temporary procedures) along with long-term information (area maps, long-term procedures, regulations). As my career progressed, I could easily keep track of ten or twelve 5-character aircraft ID's and recall them instantly from memory, all while listening to radio traffic and some guy trying to talk to you on the landline while issuing control instructions to several different aircraft in my airspace. The good controllers could do this. The ones that couldn't ended up as supervisors.

When I quit this line of work (there's not an awful lot of market demand for burnt-out air traffic controllers), my short-term memory went to shit. I'm lucky to be able to remember my home phone number, and I certainly can no longer listen to someone rattle off a string of characters or instructions, and then regurgitate them verbatim. It's apparent to me that short-term memory is something that's developed over time, and is also something that atrophies over time when it's not used. Long-term memory is still there: I can rattle off an approach clearance per the 7110.65, although there's nowhere on my resume to put that particular skill.

Ouch (1)

glowingspleen (180814) | more than 13 years ago | (#454939)

Man, I just counted the email addresses that I check on a weekly basis and I came up with 10. Yeah it's a tad excessive but they're so easy to collect...

Anyway, my girlfriend uses Gator to store her passwords, and it's tragic to see her away from her home PC and not remember any of her passwords. I've found the best way to keep up with all these logins and passwords is to simplify. I just came up with a single super-unique login name (to prevent anyone from having alreayd registered it) and a simple low-security superpassword that I use with it. Sure, it isn't very secure, and yes, people could use that L/P to break into all of the other accounts if they got it, but I'm not worried. For sites that store my credit card records, I use secure L/P's. For sites that force me to setup an L/P to browse the news or chat about a certain game, it's just easier to have one universal. I also recommend assigning a dummy hotmail account for the records though, to soak up all the spam that will follow.

Re:A Better Reason . . . (1)

elbobo (28495) | more than 13 years ago | (#454940)

heh, yea add that in with the reliance on the internet and personal databases, and we're screwed..

for the modern youth, pdas aren't a luxury, they're a necessity..


Einstein (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 13 years ago | (#454941)

Einstein said that you should never memorize what you can look up.

- - - - -

I doubt the validity of the findings. (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 13 years ago | (#454945)

PDA's havent been out long enough for any serious study to be accurate in any way. Every good business-person knows that keeping information written down makes the sucessful salesperson/ceo/whatever. If the PDA really maks people dumber than they should have seen a sharp increase in stupidity when we achived the following....

Writing - Now I dont have to remember everything.
Television... wait a minute... That does make people stupid.

Besides, does this "study" take into effect Windows CE based devices that require the owner/user to re-enter all data on a regular basis due to lock-up's failures? Based on the study, That should make people with photographic memory.

what utter bullsh*t (3)

h2odragon (6908) | more than 13 years ago | (#455072)

I had a great argument refuting this article, but I forgot what I was gonna say...

Too Early to tell (2)

selectspec (74651) | more than 13 years ago | (#455077)

150 people is hardly a study. "No formal studies" means no studies. Premlimary findings such as these are essentially meaningless, and really we should all...

... um... I forgot what I was going to say.

PDA Reliance (2)

AMuse (121806) | more than 13 years ago | (#455080)

Sounds like this is typical of technology. The more you rely on the tech to do your job for you, the less practice you get.

A farmer, for example, who used to plow his fields by hand or with an Ox, would be much stronger through use and practice of his muscles than today's farmer, who augments most physical labor with machinery.

Apply this to technology. Let others think for you, and soon you forget how to think at all. This is a nice point to keep in mind for those people who like to think that our government should do as much for its people as possible. (hint!).

This isn't actually a problem (1)

fudboy (199618) | more than 13 years ago | (#455085)

The details they are testing for have been supplatanted with remembering vi commands.
no big deal. I can use vi to do anything, right?


Memory Loss? (5)

TheWhiteOtaku (266508) | more than 13 years ago | (#455087)

Just most tech-saavy people can't remember their phone number doesn't mean they have a bad memory.

Example: I have no idea what my social security number, blood type or insurer is. If I was ever in an accident, I'd be good as dead. However, that seems unlikely since I'm inside all day playing Counter-Strike, of which I've memorized every inch of every stage, the cost of each gun and ammo type, and the IP address of my favorite servers. My memory is now commited to useful things.

True (2)

Bob-K (29692) | more than 13 years ago | (#455089)

Personal observation bears this out. When I was in college, young people were really smart. Now that I'm my forties, they seem really, really stupid.

Funny, though, my parents said the same thing when I was young.

Fogies vs. whippersnappers (1)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 13 years ago | (#455093)

As one doctor succinctly put it, 'Young people today are becoming stupid.'

Gramps has been saying this for years.

Dancin Santa

Yeah, whatever (4)

Don Negro (1069) | more than 13 years ago | (#455106)

That's what they said when we added this nifty alphabet thing. "Kids today," they said, "Next thing you know, they won't be able to recite 10,000 line epics from memory."

Yeah, like that happened...

Don Negro

Exercise your mind. (1)

still cynical (17020) | more than 13 years ago | (#455109)

I've always thought of using one's mind is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Rely on PDAs, paper and pencil, string on the fingers too much, and what does your memory have to exercise it?

Read a book, try to remember things on your own, turn off the TV once in a while! (ok, maybe not that last one)

(disclaimer: I love my PDA!)

Stupid people (2)

Flounder (42112) | more than 13 years ago | (#455113)

You mean people in their twenties and thirties with PDAs are stupid. Hell, most people in their twenties and thirties are stupid, regardless if they own a PDA or not. That's half the fun of being young, you can be stupid.

Besides, have you watched MTV lately? Point made.

BTW, I'm thirty, I use a Palm daily, and my wife can vouch for the stupidity part.

What a dope... (1)

nickovs (115935) | more than 13 years ago | (#455114)

People in their 20s and 30s suffer memory loss.

People in their 20s and 30s have a significant fraction who've been smoking dope for years.

Smoking dope is known to be correlated with memory loss.

The connection must be computer...

Bah! (1)

Crewd (199804) | more than 13 years ago | (#455116)

People have used various remembering aids for years. Everything from a computer, a piece of string tied on your finger, writing on your hand, to a piece of paper. It's crazy to try and say that these memory problems are because of electronic devices. The real problem probably lies in the fact that more drugs have been used by people in those generations than have been used by generations in the past.

just my 2 cents

I always thought it was just stress. (2)

AntiPasto (168263) | more than 13 years ago | (#455119)

Seriously. I mean, my girlfriend is always like "we *just* talked about this last week". I always thought I just had a lot of things on my mind, but perhaps my psyche is getting use to things being a click away?

I don't know if that's entirely true. I'm becoming less and less dependant on, say, the PHP online reference as most of that is starting to stick. I also work sometime in technical support, and I'm finding myself referring to our knowledgebase less and less.

Perhaps this is for those who are developing their learning skills in general by using the net?

Oh well. Sorry honey . I wish I didn't repeat the same stories all the time.


Back when I was young... (1)

IPFreely (47576) | more than 13 years ago | (#455121)

... the young people were really smart.
It was all the old people who were stuped.

funny how the intellegence curve is following me ...

And what happens... (1)

Nidhogg (161640) | more than 13 years ago | (#455131)

when you forget how to use your PDA there timothy?


Not much to go on (1)

SirWhoopass (108232) | more than 13 years ago | (#455134)

As I recall, Einstein didn't know his phone number. He claimed there was no need to waste effort memorizing it when it could be looked up so easily.

The whole story is a bit silly because it doesn't have any data from formal research and relies heavily upon two anecdotes.

PDA's making us dumb? (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 13 years ago | (#455140)

As opposed to the Franklin Daytimer planners that yuppies carried around in the 80's and 90's, which made them smart?

That doctor is an idiot. What he said is the dumbest thing I have heard in a long time. Every one of us is a little dumber for having read it.

Bullshit. (2)

MWoody (222806) | more than 13 years ago | (#455143)

These people have obviously never seen my grandfather try to program a computer.

Of course, neither have I... He won't go near the things.

Maybe... (2)

DaveV1.0 (203135) | more than 13 years ago | (#455147)

There are just more stupid people in the world

Plato said the same thing (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#455149)

Plato, if I remember my philosophy classes, said the same thing about writing some time ago. Go figure.

Correlation/Causation (3)

adimarco (30853) | more than 13 years ago | (#455151)

Um, basics of logic [] ? Correlation is not causation? Aren't scientists of all people supposed to know these things?

Maybe it is? []


Re:This isn't actually a problem (1)

Alatar (227876) | more than 13 years ago | (#455153)

Nah, that's emacs. Vi does one thing - edit text.

As it should be.

Re:True (1)

still cynical (17020) | more than 13 years ago | (#455156)

And of course, their parents said the same thing, and their parents, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Wow, if that were true, just think what kind of geniuses Stone Age people were!

using a computer as short-term memory (1)

aNonMooseCowherd (169745) | more than 13 years ago | (#455171)

This reminds me of a science fiction book -- I think it was Oath of fealty -- where one character had a direct link from his brain to his company's computer and used the computer to remember things for him. Then he found out that someone had broken into the computer, meaning the cracker had effectively broken into his brain.

If SDRAM would fit in my ear... (1)

Code Archeologist (128429) | more than 13 years ago | (#455175)

Well you know if I could get the damn SDRAM chips to go into my ear and interface them properly with my brain I probably would not forget things quite so often...

Re:IIRC, (1)

JohnSmith1138 (313010) | more than 13 years ago | (#455178)

As I remember, he had to stitch his address into the sleaves of his clothes so when he went for a walk and got lost he could ask directions back to his place. Wish I were that stupid.

Re:what utter bullsh*t (2)

Nickoty (313029) | more than 13 years ago | (#455181)

Equally ironic, I once bought a book about mnemonic techniques. On the back of the book, it told me how much time of my life I would save not having to look for things I've lost.

Needless to say, I lost that book even before I got started reading it.

Re:Bah! (1)

Flounder (42112) | more than 13 years ago | (#455184)

The real problem probably lies in the fact that more drugs have been used by people in those generations than have been used by generations in the past.

You mean, I can blame my memory loss on my parents? My dad has been blaming every ailment of his on me for years, I've finally got something to blame on him, other than the beer gut and the small penis.

Re:what utter bullsh*t (2)

Some12 (129970) | more than 13 years ago | (#455186)

I'd like to know what the ratio of information required by an average person now compared to someone let's say 10 years ago...? Memory loss my ass: it's called selective memorization.

Memory loss != Stupidity (1)

banuaba (308937) | more than 13 years ago | (#455188)

Why in the heck does a lack of memory equal stupidity? Does that mean that the autistics who can remember conversations/books vertabim are hyperintellegent? What crap.
That said, I have been using a computer for most of my bookkeeping/writing/calculating for the last 10 or so years, and I've noticed that my spelling and 'in the head' math has gone into the toilet. This isn't a turrible thing because I have adaptive devyces(get it? ::sigh::), but it is kind of disturbing.
Of course, I'm a better thinker now and my papers have become more consise and intelligent (this post notwithstanding) because I don't have to concentrate on layout or spelling, I can put the entirety of my brainpower to use getting my point across.
The other side of the coin says that our children and thier children are going to have a piss-poor understanding of how the mechanics of the language work, and will subsequently not be able to make themselves easily understood.

But, of course, I isn't a scietficist.


Intelligence is NOT remembering trivial details (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#455190)

Remembering trivial details is not a sign of intelligence. I know people who can lots of trivial details, but who could not solve a problem to save their lives. Problem solving is intelligence, as demonstrated by Albert Einstein. Problem solving is what people get paid big money to do. That's something to remember.

Re:A Better Reason . . . (1)

alprazolam (71653) | more than 13 years ago | (#455192)

theres no evidence that reefer causes loss of long term memory. short term yes. and also this article is stupid. this is a causal fallcy. people who who use pdas are more likely to have bad memories. people with good memories don't need them.

similar to.. (1)

geomcbay (263540) | more than 13 years ago | (#455194)

Seems similar to the arguments about how calculators ruin kid's arithmetic skills. At one level, its true (and you can debate for hours with different educators as to whether kids should be given calculators early on, or only later when they can do the basics easily themselves), but at another level these devices provide a bit of augmentation that can be quite useful.

In any case, the article sounds a bit overblown to me. Of the people I know who use computers or PDAs to store lots of information, none of them has anything near the memory problems that are described in that article. In fact, the people I know who use the devices actually have quite keen memories, both short & long term.

One in ten people forgetting where they are going, etc? Because of overuse of a PDA? If this is even true, it sounds like there might be some other factors involved there (stress of IT-heavy workers?).

What does the PDA free you to do? (3)

dsplat (73054) | more than 13 years ago | (#455207)

If people are no longer exercising their memories at all because they can rely on PDAs and other tools, certainly their memories will atrophy. However, I know a significant number of people who use various tools to keep track of large bodies of information that has no intrinsic significance in order to free themselves to learn things that are useful to them.

As an example, I stopped trying to remember my parents' phone number the first time they moved after I left home. The only importance that sequence of digits has is a way to reach them. But I still take the time to remember the names of their friends and neighbors at each new home. I've met several of them. They are important. I don't bother remembering things that I can look up when I need them, but I give more attention to things I may need to know when I can't consult my secondary storage.

Books (1)

Nakoruru (199332) | more than 13 years ago | (#455212)

I bet people said this about books in the middle ages. I think there is a difference between not being able to remember things, and not memorizing it in the first place. Sure people used to memorize the entire bible, but now they don't because they don't have to. That doesn't mean that they can't if they tried.

Exercise your brain :) (1)

MeltyMan (262145) | more than 13 years ago | (#455216)

By using IP addresses;
"Text URL's are for sissies!" -FoxTrot

passwords (1)

alen (225700) | more than 13 years ago | (#455217)

It's so true. So that's why half my users write down their passwords and keep them within 2 feet of their computers.

Loss of Memory in Younger Adults (1)

herwin (169154) | more than 13 years ago | (#455220)

I seriously can't credit this report unless I see a scientific paper with the data. There _is_ evidence that a rich environment improves cognition and memory, so I suspect some other cause--perhaps increased exposure to neuroactive substances or carbon monoxide, or increased stress-related anxiety. Alternatively, there may be some environmental pollutant entering via the olfactory system and damaging the memory systems.

Re:Bah! (1)

Nickoty (313029) | more than 13 years ago | (#455222)

yeah, this is absolutely nothing new. Even dr. Watson had a notebook.

I have "ADD" (4)

perdida (251676) | more than 13 years ago | (#455223)

(attention deficit disorder) Diagnosed, but it is simply a subcategory of a whole brace of culturally and biologically derived symptoms. When I was a kid I sure wished I had a laptop and a PDA, so I could read what I wrote, catch everything the teachers said, and not drift off.

That stuff sure helps me now. My brain is so active now because I can stay consistent on something for an extended period of time, without having a teacher to watch over me to do it!

What's wrong with shaping my environment to increase my effectiveness? And who would think that they are the only person who efficiently uses these tools, either? Most people who invest in these tools and continue to use them must find a use for them.

Maybe it's video games that breed stupidity? Some marketer deliberately harnessing eyeballs? Screw video games, lets focus on educational technology. My attention span certainly improved when I figured out all the useful, profitable, and interesting things I could do with a computer.

Wouldn't you think everyone else's would, too?


Peer Review? (1)

cube farmer (240151) | more than 13 years ago | (#455237)

Was this study peer reviewed? Or did the researchers forget that part?

Seriously, this is only one, small study. I'd like to see what data is being used as a baseline, especially when hearing claims like, "In the past two years, more people in their twenties and thirties have presented themselves with memory impairment," as Dr Takashi Tsukiyama is quoted in the article. Did he participate in the research? Or is he some random MD?

Finally, what, if any, link was found for computerization of personal data being the cause of the reported memory loss? computerized PIMs and paper-based day planners have been around for a long time, and nobody's mentioned those in peer-reviewed journals claiming they cause memory loss... Other than portablility, how are PDAs different from PIMs, and other than computerization, how are PDAs different than day planners?

Electronic Brains are killing our Brains (1)

Lover's Arrival, The (267435) | more than 13 years ago | (#455240)

I have said the exact same thing in the past, and been modded down with flamebait, which really pissed me off.

Now, the simple fact is that all sorts of electronic devices do affect our mental abilities adversely, and in various ways. They do so through radiation, which heats the brain up, not a good thing. They can do so through the inherent way we use them. For example, Alzheimers has been linked to television - the rapid cut scenes of television mean that the visual part of our brain has to work overtime to completely regenrate its mental map of the world every few seconds. God knows what will happen to the computer game generation, who have to do it several times per second.

We just don't know enough about electronics to be really sure what is happening. We have only had electronics such as computers, televisions, PDA's and so forth for a couple of generations. We evolved to function in the African Savannah, with a much more sedate lifestyle, not to be running around with radiation punding into our brains and new stimuli and motivating forces every few seconds, as we do today, all the damn time.

We can't escape from the modern world, it is everywhere. What we need to do is make the modern world more natural, with the enlightened use of technology. But the corps and the government aren't interested in that, so how do we convince them? I just don't know. I am really beginning to despair. Especially when I read news like this.

It pisses me off.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

I've found it to be the opposite. (1)

James Foster (226728) | more than 13 years ago | (#455242)

Whenever remembering computer-related things, they come easily to me (programming languages, ect). I'm also pretty sure that my real life memory has been better because of computers.
The one thing I have noticed is that sometimes I have a very inconsistent short term memory in that sometimes I can remember a whole conversation after having it, sometimes nothing.
Anyways, I think the moral of the story is that in today's high tech society we can no longer depend on our own memory, so get PDA... ;]

Kinda depressing, but I'd believe it (1)

Bitter Cup O Joe (146008) | more than 13 years ago | (#455246)

As a simpler version, how many of you remember the phone numbers that you have on speed-dial on your primary phone? Now this is just anecdotal, of course, but I've got a friend who started using speed dial a few years ago and quickly added all of his numbers to his primary phone. These days, not only does he have trouble remembering the numbers on the speed dial, he admits that he has more trouble remembering NEW phone numbers as well. As easy as it is to dismiss this out of hand, I'd definitely say it's worthy of further study, even if the results of that indicate that something in your lifestyle is *gasp* detrimental to you.

Just a little adjustment... (2)

greg_barton (5551) | more than 13 years ago | (#455250)

GROWING numbers of people in their twenties and thirties are suffering from severe memory loss because of increasing reliance on books and other word storage devices, according to new research.

Sufferers complain they are unable to recall names, written words or appointments, and in some cases have had to give up their jobs.

Doctors are blaming paper books, personal organisers and road maps. They claim these sophisticated information devices lead to diminished use of the brain to work out problems and inflict "information overload" that makes it difficult to distinguish between important and unimportant facts.

One researcher commented, "Why, in my day we could memorize the entire Odyssey! All we had was the 'rosy fingered dawn' to help us. Kids these days!"

Memory != intelligence (1)

CraigoFL (201165) | more than 13 years ago | (#455252)

As one doctor succinctly put it, 'Young people today are becoming stupid.'

Please, everyone, say it with me: The ability to remember facts does not equal the ability to think, to solve problems, etc. The trait being discussed was memory. If the doctor had said 'Young people today are becoming scatterbrained' that would be one thing, but this is just silly.

Sorry, this is just a pet peeve of mine.

Re:Correlation/Causation (2)

stevew (4845) | more than 13 years ago | (#455255)

Absolutely! Scientists SHOULD know better.

Heck - everyone KNOWS it is the cell phones that 20 some-things are using that are killing their brain cells!

Simple solution (1)

Matt Lee (2725) | more than 13 years ago | (#455256)

Delete all of your phone numbers (after memorizing them), and then use your PDA just to play games [] .

Bah! (1)

Flower (31351) | more than 13 years ago | (#455276)

As long as I can remember not to eat yellow snow I think I'm going to be ok.

Re:Where does memory go? (1)

Wolfier (94144) | more than 13 years ago | (#455279)

Or, should it be the other way round:

cat /dev/null > memory?

Uhh... (1)

imadoofus (233751) | more than 13 years ago | (#455283)

Damn, I forgot what I was going to say...

The important things (1)

big_cat79 (156695) | more than 13 years ago | (#455287)

I love my PDA. I use it to store around 300 names, addresses, phone numbers, weeks of appointments, and a myriad of other things. How much of this information do I use reguraly? Almost none. However, the important stuff such as family's birthdays, my anniversary, phone numbers of those I use often are remembered. Why, off the top of my head, would I need to know my college roommate for a semester's telephone number off the top of my head? I don't. That's why it's in my PDA. I have better things to remember.

And just because a trend of memory lapses happens to coincide with the increased usage doesn't mean anything. Before Palms, Visors, et al, they had their little day runner planners and such. It's a very flawed cause and effect statement. It's almost like taking the information that killings and ice cream in a 3 month period in New York increased at the same rate, leading someone to believe that ice cream induces homicidal fervor. Who cares if those 3 months are June, July, and August. Utter BS.


It's rooted in modern teaching methodologies (3)

Chuck Flynn (265247) | more than 13 years ago | (#455288)

It's not just kids' memories, though they're the ones who are feeling the brunt of it, having spent the most time in the environment our society has created for them and for us. People everywhere have been experiencing deteriorating memories, and I'd say it has to do with how we teach them in school.

It used to be that you'd learn facts in school. You'd get a big textbook or two and carry it around in your burlap sack, go to classes and get orally quizzed on your ability to recall facts, and go home and get the snot beaten out of you if you didn't show any progress. You had to learn how to recall trivial things, because it was the only way to survive and prosper. The best minds of my day were like that.

Today? The emphasis is on task-based learning and goal-oriented teaching. Kids are being taught how to think, instead of what to think, out of some liberal notion that we shouldn't make their beliefs conform to our own experienced ones. It sounds great on paper, but in reality, kids are not only failing to learn how to think, they don't even know what to think about anymore. This is why you see much greater emphasis on arts and other trivial applications of human talents, instead of engineering and classical studies. For better or worse, we're breeding a generation of mental invalids.

You can't teach a whole generation to drive society by encouraging them to feel about driving. You have to give them rigid rules and test them on their grasp thereof. And if they don't conform, then you make them conform. It's not totalitarianism; it's just common sense.

What's needed is a better combination of the two methods. We should insist that our children learn both what and how to think. Only that way can we insure that the new generations can learn from my generation's mistakes and fulfill our promises of greatness.

Nothing to do with PDA's. (I don't use em) (1)

jidar (83795) | more than 13 years ago | (#455291)

Things I sometimes can't remember:
My age, my phone number, peoples names.

It's true. I have incorrectly given my age when asked, several times. If not for my wife standing there to correct me I would have been oblivious to the error.

So I forget some stuff, big deal. All of those things are unimportant to me anyway, so who cares?

I think that most of you will agree that this type of attitude is common in the geek community. Of course the doctor blames this on the first thing he thinks of, namely PDA's. Newsflash: I don't use a PDA and never have. I never use my computer or any tech gadgets to store information because I'm not that organized, I usually just forget the info, heh.

Hrm... you know, doctors these days are getting really stupid.

Incisive Evidence (1)

HongPong (226840) | more than 13 years ago | (#455294)

/. Headline earlier today:New E-Mail Vulnerability - Trust Your Neigbor?

Sure as hell has affected your memory of how to spell words! (headline has since been corrected :)


Two Questions (1)

Puk (80503) | more than 13 years ago | (#455295)

1) I don't see any data here on how many people historically had memory loss problems at that age. Maybe I missed it, but I only saw one anecdotal mention of a person "seeing an increase" in the number of such problem. Perhaps 1 in 10 people have been having severe memory problems between the ages of 20 and 35 since the dawn of time. God knows, I was born with them.

2) If people are relying on their PDAs, then why is being unable to remember a phone number causing people to lose their jobs? Didn't they have the number in their PDA? No, seriously. :)


Re:A Better Reason . . . (2)

Golias (176380) | more than 13 years ago | (#455297)

Thank you for being the first to point out what these idiot doctors should have realized from the beginning.

Saying PDA's hurt your memory is like saying that using crutches will break your leg, because the rate of broken legs is startlingly higher among crutch-users than the general population.

Darwinian evolution (1)

The Wicked Armadillo (123058) | more than 13 years ago | (#455312)

The point behind this is??

We have a well defined culture that is starting to revolve around technology. These tools are changing the way we choose to exist, and in a generation or two people will not understand how an individual could exist with out these tools. It is evolution of a sort, and is not much of a concern to me.

Another way to look at this is that as these tools develop people will either use them and benefit by their use, or not use them and not benefit by their lack. In the end if the tools make the people better able to function in the environments they live and work in, who cares what side effects the tools may have on a psychological level? It is simply Darwinian evolution in the modern world, deal with it.

nutrasweet (2)

joemaller (37695) | more than 13 years ago | (#455313)

There is growing evidence of Aspertame (main ingredient of Nutrasweet) affectting short term memory.

Search Google for Nutrasweet and memory loss and you'll get a huge listing. Not just health-food stores either, several university studies come up too.

This is not just a conspiracy-theorist, natural-foods idea, the evidence is compelling. Researchers are linking consumption of nutrasweet to the rise in Alzheimers disease and it would also justify the research in this article.

How much diet coke do you drink?

WHAT "doctors?" Make 'em prove it. (2)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 13 years ago | (#455317)

This is like "nine out of ten doctors recommend..." which usually means nine out of THESE SPECIFIC ten doctors recommend...

Sure there are some out there who might say that in their opinion, PDAs are making people dumber. That doesn't make them right. These are just unfounded scare tactics.

P.S. (2)

perdida (251676) | more than 13 years ago | (#455319)

Was chronic marijuana use considered as a factor? What cultural characteristics were prominent in these people studied?

technology in our lives (1)

Ben Schumin (312122) | more than 13 years ago | (#455321)

I'm glad that someone is investigating this. It seems like in the hurry to adopt new technology, we've never given any real thoughts to the negative effects of these new technologies.

From sitting in front of a monitor all day at work, to the tv at evenings in the home, to the cell phones we carry with us at all times, we are constantly surrounded by new bleeding edge technology. Most of the information we have on how techonlogy negatively effects our lives in anecdotal at best.

And even worse, any damning evidence that comes out is largely ignored by the media and the press, when it's not actively suppressed by the companies that make the techonology.

At a company I was consulting for, everyone was using instant messaging to talk with each other and their friends. At the direction of my employer, I started capturing and analyzing all the traffic.

The results were in one way startling, and in others exactly what you'd expect. 90% of the messages were not work related. Several people actually lost their jobs based on some of the things they were talking about.

Additionally, we realized that people were losing touch with their coworkers, because they can just instant message them a question instead of talking to them in person. This kind of distancing is not good in a work place, when you should really rely on your other coworkers.

I'm happy to say that instant messaging is now banned at that particular company. I like to feel like I made a positive difference. But that's just one damaging technology -- what about all the others?

Yeah, kids, (1)

servasius_jr (258414) | more than 13 years ago | (#455322)

but don't forget that this is part of an ongoing process that we can trace back to the invention of the written word, and later, the rise of literacy. I can't remember phone numbers worth a damn, but I have developed the abililty to sort through a phone book pretty fast by way of ennumeration. There are draw-backs, but the incredible value of being able to store thoughts somewhere other than inside our heads is one of the foundation stones of Civilization. (yes, with a capital C, if I may) Also, these draw-backs are fairly minor, in the sense that idea storing devices haven't been around nearly long enough for them to have any effect on our evolution.

It's sleep deprivation (1)

joneshenry (9497) | more than 13 years ago | (#455323)

Instead of coming up with a novel linkage to PDAs and/or computers, a simpler explanation is that the people suffering memory loss are victims of sleep deprivation. Any number of factors could result in the loss of the crucial REM phase of sleep where memories are more permanently processed for retention. (For example, people might simply not be allocating enough sleep time to even reach the proper dream phase.) Notice that the observations were about a specific range of ages, people in their 20s and 30s. The only contribution of modern technology might be in the increased temptation to sacrifice sleep time for entertainment, a phenomena I suspect would hold true for television as much as for computers.

where was this study published? (2)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 13 years ago | (#455340)

Was this a peer reviewed study? What journal did it appear in? Was a coorelation between PDA use and memory loss found, or were the findings correlated with age. Was there a control group?

Newspapers should print proper citations...

Stupidity Runs Rampant (1)

DocMarten (306886) | more than 13 years ago | (#455344)

I clicked on the hyperlink to read the article, only to find that I had forgotten what I was going to do with the jumble of text before my eyes! After this problem surfaced, a landslide of technical problems arose. Where's the 'back' button on my browser? What's this 'Slashdot' website thing? Who am I? How did I get here? What day is it? Help me, for I am stupid! DocMarten 'The vastness of space and time, and I end up here?!'

Re:PDA Reliance (1)

ironic nickname (311365) | more than 13 years ago | (#455345)

And that same, stronger farmer would die younger, suffering from arthritis. It's called progress. We decide what's important and forget about what isn't.

Arg! (1)

Hallow (2706) | more than 13 years ago | (#455348)

This is someone's idea of a story? There's nothing but anecdotal evidence here.

I could maybe see information overload. Over reliance on PDA's and computers and car navigation systems causing memory loss is a pretty stupid idea. One lady forgot how to remember what she read? Sounds like she has a visual learning problem to me.

Why i don't buy this (2)

VValdo (10446) | more than 13 years ago | (#455349)

  • First off, I know that my memory SUCKS when I haven't slept. I wonder whether the people studied were given proper sleep, and how our generation's sleeping habits compare with those of previous generations.
  • We're living in an "information age." The amount of information I need to process daily has got to be huge compared with the comparable "me" of a few decades ago. It's only natural that with so much more stuff coming in, the same memory capacity only seems to have diminished. I mean, I've got to store in memory all the different functions and variables I'm using in my C program. One type of memory replaces another.
  • For all our reliance on PDAs and such to hold information, we have to have additional information in our memory to retrieve that info-- how to USE the PDA for example.
  • I don't even use PDAs and my memory is crap.
  • In the days of old, were people actually responsible for MEMORIZING their entire schedules? Didn't they have other technology such as a paper calendar to keep this info?

Then again, who can forget that freaky kid from Tom Sawyer who memorized the entire Bible...

Bad memory means stupidness ? (1)

rasjani (97395) | more than 13 years ago | (#455350)

How on earth a certified doctor say something like that. Memory has nothing to do with stupidness.

I consider non-stupidness or wiseness (how ever you define it) as the ability to use references and search the correct data and use it in the best way possible. Ofcourse basic knowledge requires some memorising but still, true ability to use brain is to explore and use stored data internal or external of our brain capacity.

And yeah, i do have really bad memory but i still can get past mensa tests. But sometimes forget my cow-orkers names. Am i stupid ? I dont think so...

Uh Oh... (1)

sc_demandred (309821) | more than 13 years ago | (#455351)

I spent most of my high school and college years forgetting everything important. Now that I'm working, I finally got a PDA to help me keep my life straight... looks like I'm really fucked now.

They forgot to consider... (2)

sparcv9 (253182) | more than 13 years ago | (#455352)

the vast amounts of information that we have to keep track of nowadays. With the fast-paced society we live in and all the bazillion little schedules and meetings and numbers and [dizzying amount of other trivial things], it's no wonder things get forgotten. It's not our lack of retention, it's that our memories haven't caught up with the influx of data. Plain and simple, we have a lot more things to remember than we used to, and it just doesn't all fit. Damn 640K limit.
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