Are smartphones making us dumber?

The secret of a good marketing campaign is making it memorable. If a consumer can remember your brand’s USP when she’s in-store and picking a product, there’s more chance of her choosing your brand. Increasingly, though, we use technology to remember for us – phone numbers, schedules, how good your lunch looked yesterday. And this raises the question of whether that technology is affecting our ability to remember things and, if so, what that means for marketers, researchers or indeed us, the users.

The answer, as research from Yahoo Canada and Fresh Intelligence shows, is yes, technology is changing how we remember, and it is essential for marketers to understand the implications of this trend.

The research itself took the form of a multi-stage hybrid study, combining qualitative and quantitative elements with mobile ethnography and neuro-measurement.

The first stage was exploratory in nature. It used qualitative methods to build an understanding of what memory means to people day to day and the nature of their relationships with technology. These discussions revealed that people are acutely aware of their dependence on smartphones, particularly for remembering things. And while technology is empowering in many ways, the extent to which it has infiltrated day-to-day functioning was also worrying for many, with questions raised about the implications for their own mental abilities.

The second stage of the research was a quantitative survey of 1500 Canadians. The results validated just how inseparable many people are from their devices and showed that four out of five users feel using a smartphone is addictive. The data also suggested that fear of forgetting is a strong motivator in how people use their devices to remember things. Of those surveyed, 69% said that forgetting an important memory would induce feelings of fear, sadness and anxiety; 77% said they use to-do lists as a stress management tool.

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Donovan Bond

Toronto, Canada