6 Ways to Prevent Your Smartphone from Making You Feel Dumber
A 2016 study in the journal Memory showed that relying on tech makes our brains lazy: Researchers found that when people were allowed to Google answers to difficult questions, they became more likely to turn to the search engine to help answer simple ones as well. Smartphones also hamper our ability to recall things by overwhelming our mind with distractions, says Susan Lehmann, MD, clinical director of geriatric psychiatry and neuropsychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "When you use these devices, you're often switching quickly between topics or conversations," she says. "That rapid change in focus can prevent an idea or thought from sufficiently registering in your memory."
Want to bolster your powers of recall? Try these savvy tips.
Hide your device.
A mere glimpse, even if the screen is dark, slashes your capacity to pay attention and remember, according to a new study from the University of Texas at Austin. "The process of resisting the temptation to use it can reduce your ability to think clearly," says study coauthor Adrian Ward, PhD. When you're not making calls or sending texts, stash your phone in a desk drawer or in another room of your home.
Turn on Do Not Disturb mode; in Settings, you can then allow calls only from selected contacts. This way you'll get important or expected notifications but avoid the nonurgent ones ("Look what Alice just tweeted!") that clamor for your attention. You can also consider swapping your usual device for a credit card–size Light Phone ($150). It syncs with your smartphone so you can make and receive calls, but that's it—no other temptations or distractions.
Hang out with Facebook friends.
People over 40 who reported socializing with friends and family in the past week were likelier than those who were more isolated to rate their memory as excellent or very good, a 2017 AARP brain health survey found. "There is a real benefit to talking face-to-face," says Cynthia Green, PhD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. "If you connect by text or email, it's not the same test of intellectual or social skills."
Pick up a pen.
Scribble down quotes, important dates, and other details you want to keep in your mind. Writing notes on paper led to better memory retention than typing on laptops in a 2014 study published in Psychological Science. Typing is often mindless transcribing, but handwriting requires more time and focus, says Ward. The process helps encode information into your memory. You can still use a notes app for minutiae like grocery lists or promo codes for online shopping.
Ban your device from meetings.
When you're interacting with people or completing a task, your brain relies on what's called working memory: short-term recall for details that are important in the moment (like sales figures), but might not be in a few weeks. "Working memory enables us to hold on to new information so we can decide whether to convert it to longer-term storage," says Lehmann. If you're distracted by your phone while an idea is in working memory, you might not be able to access it later.
Put your phone to bed.
"Memory is consolidated during sleep," says Lehmann. She advises turning off all devices at least an hour before bed and charging them on the other side of the bedroom, not your nightstand, so you won't be tempted to sneak peeks when you should be getting zzz's.
Driven to Distraction
People look at their phones 47 times per day on average, according to a 2017 global survey by the auditing and consulting firm Deloitte.