Show of hands: Do you know your best friend’s phone number? I don’t. In fact, I probably only know the numbers I have to fill out on forms for contact information purposes. Otherwise all the digits are stored in my contact folder on my iPhone. Basically, my brain sees no reason to remember anything that it doesn’t have to.

Which is exactly the reasoning behind a new study that shows that people are losing their memories thanks to all this digital picture taking and sharing. Researchers hypothesize that “we are less likely to remember information if we think we can retrieve it later.”

“We’re kind of counting on our technology to keep our memories,” says Linda Henkel, a psychologist at Fairfield University. “We collect photos almost as if they’re trophies, or evidence, but that’s not the same thing as trying to capture the experience.”

To conduct the study, participants were taken on a museum tour, where they were told to photograph some object but simply observe others. The next day, they were asked details about the things they’d seen, and they were able to give more details about the un-photographed items.

The crazy thing is that when shown pictures they’d taken, they couldn’t even remember seeing some of those things, let alone taking pictures of them!

So is Instagram giving us Swiss cheese brain?

A second experiment showed that when the participants zoomed in on certain parts of a work of art, they were more likely to not only remember more details from that particular section, but also from the piece as a whole.

Henkel says it’s good advice to apply this idea to our own lives, and to zoom in on moments that matter. She says to photograph just those moments, and live the rest of them. “… Be in the moment,” she says, “instead of the representation of the moment.”

Do you feel like modern technology has ruined your memory?


Image via Jonathan Chen/Flickr