Given that smartphones are replacing maps, dictionaries, diaries, address books, calculators, even iPods, it's really not that surprising that our dependence on them is huge. When I leave my phone at home for a day (or at work for an evening), I feel bereft, unconnected, insecure - and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Mobiles have a changing (and increasingly prominent) role in our lives, and it would be absurd to suggest that this wouldn't have an impact on our brains.
I'm no psychologist, but to me the problem seems to be that your brain subconsciously knows it doesn't need to remember information - because Google is only a few clicks/swipes away. Even if you actively try to take it in, there's always that slight feeling of security knowing you can get it back at any time, giving you no sense of urgency to remember. To quote Daniel Wegner and Adrian Ward (as mentioned in the article): "Using Google gives people the sense that the internet has become part of their own cognitive tool-set".
Now don't get me wrong, the fact that we can effectively 'outsource' everyday information to a device isn't necessarily a bad thing. Surely making our lives easier and freeing up time is a step towards a future worth striving for? Well, it is. But my main concern is that with all these advancements requiring less and less cognitive input from us, our brains are soon effectively going to rot to mush.
The solution I feel with all these developments - making our lives easier and our brains work less hard - is that we need to find new ways to stimulate and challenge our brains. This is a real challenge, not to just smartphones and memory, but to any technological developments (the internet of things, smartwatches etc) that essentially make the world require less from us. The cognitive potential of humanity is a great thing, and should not be wasted. Making sure we don't let this potential slip away is a real challenge, in the face of the fact a machine will soon be able to do almost anything for us.
A recent study Added Value conducted into mobile usage confirmed what we all believed to be true – only 20% of our mobile device usage is centred on contacting friends or family. The remaining 80% of our is usage centred around general tasks, such as shopping or getting directions, all of which are made easier and quicker via our smartphones. In other words, we are outsourcing our memories simply because we can.