How smartphones could be ruining your life

selective focus photography of person holding turned on smartphone
Photo by Lisa on

Recent research has shown that the ‘smart-phonification’ of our lives has led to an over reliance on our phones, which may be linked to memory retention problems.

Director of Therapy Institute, columnist with The Irish Examiner, and author of Parenting the Screenager Richard Hogan joined Sarah McInerney and Cormac Ó hEadhra on Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1 to discuss this ‘digital amnesia’.

“These smart phones came in a bit like a Trojan horse,” says Hogan. “They usurp complex cognitive processes, and that’s the problem there. The more we don’t use our memory, the more we lose it. It’s like atrophy, when you don’t exercise and you don’t use your muscles, they waste away.”

With a smart phone in our pocket, we rarely have to delve into our knowledge of Junior Cert Geography or Leaving Cert History to figure something out. From our own personal information to global news, these devices have all the answers, all the time.

Sarah McInerney argues that, although we don’t necessarily remember more, we certainly know more now that we have so much information available to us. However, Hogan says that how we learn is vital to how we remember it.

“Remember when we were in school and someone said ‘I’m not telling you the spelling, you have to look it up in the dictionary’? You would remember it by going through that complicated cognitive confrontation of having to find what the word is. When someone just told you, you wouldn’t remember it.”


Always fighting from the glass-half-full approach, McInerney says that a smart phone is particularly useful to her as she can retain the information she really has to, but the rest can remain at her fingertips, ready to go when she needs it.

While Hogan agrees that having so much information available to us – whether it be our family calendar or information for work – is handy, he insists that the research is compelling.

“The research here is quite clear. There’s research about the over reliance of GPS and how it diminishes grey matter in the hippocampus.”

The more we mindlessly scroll, says Hogan, the less we play chess, the less we play piano and the less we challenge our memory overall. This can then become physically evident in the loss of density in the thickness of the cerebal cortex.

“That’s problematic,” he explains, “because the product of that could be increased depression or even certain areas or aspects of dementia.”

Speaking on our poor ability to multi-task, Hogan explains that phones are ‘gamified’ and designed to have distracting notifications to keep our attention throughout the day, meaning that our focus is constantly being pulled away.

He advises listeners to find moments in the day when they can ditch their phones all together, whether it be while they read a book, go for a walk, workout or have a date night with their partner.

Another top tip? Invest in an alarm clock and keep phones out of the bedroom.

“All the science suggests that when you wake up to that ‘beep beep’, that really incongruent sound that you’re supposed to wake up to, it deplenishes your energy.”