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In our internet-connected world, people are becoming terrible at remembering important phone numbers and facts, leaving them vulnerable if they lose their connected devices, suggests a new poll commissioned by internet security firm Kaspersky.

“Connected devices enrich our lives but they have also given rise to the potentially risky phenomenon of digital amnesia,” the company concluded, based on the results of the poll, in a report summarizing the results. “Increasingly relying on devices to store information as our memory leaves us immensely vulnerable should the device be lost or stolen or the data compromised — particularly if we are out and about.”

The poll was conducted online in May 2015 by polling firm Opinion Matters and included 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 16 and over. Kaspersky also conducted a similar poll of 6,000 Europeans.

Among the American respondents, most (67.4 per cent) could remember their phone number of the house they lived in at age 15.

But with the exception of their spouse’s number (which 71 per cent could remember and just 10.9 per cent could not) and their parents’ number (which 68.4 per cent could remember and 16 per cent could not), they had very few important numbers memorized:

  • Almost 40 per cent who responded to a question about their children’s phone numbers could not remember those numbers.
  • 77 per cent of those who responded to a question about their children’s schools could not remember the school phone number.
  • 39 per cent who responded to a question about their workplace could not remember their workplace number.
  • Less than half could remember a friend’s phone number.

While the poll didn’t show a direct relationship between ownership of internet-connected technology and the tendency to forget phone numbers, it did show that among respondents:

  • 69.4 per cent had a connected smartphone.
  • 58.8 per cent had a connected tablet.
  • 75.6 per cent had a connected laptop.
  • 61.1 per cent had a connected PC.

The connection between technology and forgetting was also implied by other questions. Kaspersky refused to provide the exact questions from the poll, saying they were “reported on” in the report summary, but based on the questions in a similar online survey, it appears:

  • When asked “If you want to find the answer to a question, what is the first thing you do?” 50 per cent said they would search online, while only 39.9 per cent would try to remember.
  • 91.2 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “I use the internet as an online extension of my brain.”
  • Of those surveyed, 69.4 per cent had smartphones, and 44 per cent of respondents (63 per cent of smartphone owners) agreed with the statement: “My smartphone is my memory — almost everything I know is stored on it.”
  • When asked how they would feel if they lost the information stored of their connected devices, 70 per cent said they would feel either sadness or panic, as the devices contain information that isn’t stored elsewhere.

Maria Wimer, a lecturer at the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham who was asked by Kaspersky to comment on the European results, said in a statement, “Based on this research, it can be argued that the trend to look up information before even trying to recall it prevents the buildup of long-term memories.”

Kaspersky, which makes anti-virus software, said the results suggest that “many people underestimate just how exposed their externally stored memories can be, rarely thinking about the need to protect them with IT security, such as anti-virus software.”


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