If you're going to use your phone as your brain, you better use protection. That's the conclusion of a Kaspersky study on the "Google Effect," or what they call digital amnesia -- the practice of forgetting personal information because it can be easily stored on a mobile device. The study found that we're putting ourselves at risk by essentially shifting a portion of our personal memories into a public space.
Kaspersky commissioned Opinion Matters to survey 1,000 US consumers to see how much they depended on their phone as an extension of their memories. The answers were not very surprising, but they might still be shocking. Of those surveyed, 91.2% said they used the Internet as an extension of their brain. Age and gender didn't matter. All of us do it. Roughly half said that literally everything they need to know is on their phone, and 67% said they would either be sad or panicked about losing their phones because of the irreplaceable information on it.
Only 22.7% said they'd be calm if they lost their phone because they felt they had memorized enough of it that they could reconstruct it. Basically, we've all uploaded a portion of our brain to our phones, and most of us would be distressed without it.
This is a relatively new phenomenon. Of those surveyed, 67% said they could remember the phone number of the house they lived in when they were 15, but only a third could say they could dial their own child's phone number, and only 43% said they could dial a sibling's number. Stats were even worse for other important numbers in our lives. In other words, we once memorized numbers and now we program them. And while we would like to say we're too busy to remember numbers, clearly we retain a useless piece of information like an old phone number just fine.
[ Imagine how this will be for people who grew up with smartphones. Read Meet Your IT Workers of the Future. ]
But maybe it's no big deal that we don't remember phone numbers. They are easily looked up. The problem is that it doesn't stop there. Of those surveyed, 61% don't think it's important to retain the facts they learned online, and often forget the data as soon as they use it. This can be more of a problem. I posed a hypothetical question to Chris Doggett, director of Kaspersky Lab North America: What would happen if someone studied data on X before voting on a particular referendum, and they read that X causes cancer 57% of the time? Would it be OK if they didn't remember the 57%, but they were able to remember that X is bad?
Doggett said, "The study findings show that the majority of these digital consumers strongly depend on devices and the Internet as an extension of their brain, and suggest a direct link between data available at the click of a button and a failure to commit that data to memory. What this means is that effectively we may be able to remember the 'X is bad' part but forget the 'why' part, such as 'it causes cancer,' which can be problematic if we're relying on the 'why' answers being readily accessible and they later aren't when we need them."
OK, that doesn't sound good. But let's say for a minute you are capable of remembering why "x is bad," because we previously covered part of this phenomenon where a study found that "smart" people didn't look up the same kind of information that less smart people looked up. This is still a big problem, because most Americans aren't practicing safe brain protection.
Half of America is putting the full contents of their life, including banking information, friends' contact information, their own address, and perhaps sensitive info like social security or credit card numbers into their phones, but only one third are securing those phones with something as simple as malware protection. Surprisingly, 73% of women and 66% of men surveyed believed they couldn't possibly be a target of malware, while 43% were victims last year alone.
In other words, we're putting our brains out there without a helmet. But, if we secure our phones, are we still at risk?
When I asked Doggett if there was anything wrong with storing so much critical data on our phones, he said, "I wouldn't say that uploading your brain into your phone is a problem; however, what our study found is that most people do rely on their devices as an extension of their brain and would be very distressed if something happens to the data and memories that they have stored on their devices. And we know that, even if the phone is secure, you're still not out of the woods in terms of being assured the ability to access your data (think device failure, for example)."
In other words, digital amnesia requires a little extra care. If you're going to practice it, take some sensible precautions. What do you think? Do you practice digital amnesia? Is there a problem with using our phones as an extension of our brains? Tell us in the comments.