The influence of mobile technology on user cognition and memory

Mobile technology is a part of our daily life more than ever before. Such technology can be a bless to our productivity but also make our brain a bit of a lazy thing.

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I wrote this article for my Interaction Design post-graduate course. I wanted to share with people some of the things I discovered and share some of my thoughts about this particular subject.

Please, feel free to comment and add more to this discussion! ☺️


Mobile technology coupled with the internet has been increasingly integrated into people’s daily lives, bringing information in increasing quantities and at greater speeds, we now have possibilities at our fingertips that were previously almost unimaginable, geographical and temporal barriers have become smaller or nonexistent and this ease and speed have shaped new behaviors and cognitive processes. With that in mind, we can also extend our thinking about how much these technologies can influence our memory process if we are becoming dependent on these technologies so that we can remember our daily tasks or information. Technology can make our memory dependent, but it is essential to consider several factors in this process since we live in the age of complexity.

In this article exploratory bibliographic research will be carried out, the expected result is to better understand how much mobile technology can or cannot influence people’s cognitive memory process. Considering the moment of rising of mobile technology, as well as the growing dependence of people. Taking into account also that there are some articles on the subject, but not being explored as much in the academic-scientific environment.

This exploratory descriptive article with a period of 3 months, February, March, and April 2020, has a bibliographic basis regarding cognitive processes, elaboration of hypotheses with the CSD Matrix tool (Certainty, Assumptions, and Doubts) for the purpose of the following research question: is there an influence of mobile technology on people’s cognition and memory?

Over time, mobile technology has been increasingly incorporated into our daily lives and, sometimes, people’s memories have become less effective, where many people use this technology to store information such as important dates, appointments, phone numbers, etc. There is a hypothesis that technology makes our memory dependent, but it is essential to consider several factors in this process.

The Internet is a depository of data. The network, in addition to storing much of our information (individual and/or collective), transforms the relationship of time and space by breaking geographical barriers.


Throughout history, smartphones have been increasingly incorporated into our daily lives and sometimes, some of the daily tasks have become automated by these devices, such as electronic calendars, alarm clocks, maps, etc. Thus, tasks that required the human being to make an effort to remember or locate themselves, are now done in seconds, leaving everyday tasks more effective. In contrast, people became dependent on smartphones and with that, there was a memory and cognitive lapse in performing such tasks.

We live in an era in which about 3.2 billion people have access to smartphones, so they have access to information and it comes in speed and in massive amounts.

Making a comparison between the publications of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) of 2016 and 2018, we note the increase in access to mobile internet:

The new edition of the ITU document showed that smartphone coverage is now widespread, with 95% of the global population — or 7 billion people — living in areas covered by at least 2G technology. Advanced 4G networks have spread more rapidly in the past three years and have reached almost 4 billion people today — corresponding to 53% of the global population. (ITU, 2016)

Progress has been proportionately much more important in developing countries, where 45.3% of the population currently uses the internet versus just 7.7% in 2005. At the same time, the report indicates that almost the entire population (96%) of the world lives in areas with networks for cell phones. Of these, at least 90% can access the internet through 3G technology, or through broadband networks. (G1, 2018)

And all these interactions, speed, constant flow of information, and breaking down barriers can have an impact on our cognitive processes since we receive much more information and our brain needs to make a selection of what to store, what to throw away, or what to just ignore.

Bar graph showing the increase of Smartphone users in the world during the years. The Y axis shows numbers from 0 to 5 (smartphones in millions) and the X axis shows the years from 2016 to 2021. It’s noticeable the increase from 2,5 to 3,8.
Graph of Smartphone users in the world. Source Statista. Accessed on April 2nd, 2020.
Bar graph showing the comparison between mobile (on dark blue) and desktop (light blue) use . The Y axis shows numbers from 0 to 175 (time in minutes) and the X axis shows the years from 2011 to 2021. It’s noticeable that the use of mobile has a huge increase from 32minutes to 155minutes. The desktop has a decline from 43minutes to 37minutes.
Graph of daily time spent on the Internet per capita in the world, from 2011 to 2021, by devices. Source Statista. Accessed on April 25th, 2020.

According to Sternberg (2000) and Skinner (1998), cognitive memory processes are important in our daily lives and are complex processes. Once the professionals involved in the creation of applications, features and user flows, know more about the journey of use and the impact that mobile technology has on the users’ cognitive memory process, these professionals are able to have more background and information to take into account when creating the products decreasing cognitive load or be able to direct and choose the information that can be added to the project.

For a better understanding of the process as a whole, it is necessary to clarify the concepts of “technology” and “memory”.

In Vieira Pinto’s (2008) conception, technology is the science of technique, which emerges as a social requirement in a later stage of the evolutionary history of the human species. The new technologies are born, on the one hand, due to the possession of the logical instruments and materials indispensable to arrive at a new realization, on the basis of which is the scientific development, and, on the other, of an incessant social demand to overcome obstacles and search for innovations, hence why no technology is ahead of its time.

The remembrance techniques are not related to searching the memory store, but to increasing the probability of responses. Mnemonic means are pre-learned, or easily learned, behaviors that incite or strengthen the behavior to be remembered. SKINNER, 1998

As described there is a variation in the question of memorization, by the types of users.

(…) The laypeople put to use a type of memory that is called operative, that is, memory that stores information temporarily for the accomplishment of tasks that are presented at the moment. The more momentary operations are used successfully, the more they tend to be retained by long-term memory. It is this long-term memory that the expert user has. They are endowed with mental schemas, which may explain their structures of long-term memory. Long-term memory, in the case of navigation, does not mean the retention of a sum of atomized data, but the internalization of the general scheme of a process and the ability to infer, from that general scheme, the procedures that must be updated in the time. SANTAELLA, 2018

In the spectrum of user experience, Cybis, Bertiol and Faust (2015) describe the types of memory, which they separate into two categories: working memory and permanent memory.

The first has to do with the information that indicates some relation with the final objectives and the progress of the users’ actions, and this is selected for a more elaborate treatment, being stored in the working memory. When the information is called up several times in the working memory, to be analyzed or decorated, it is recorded in the permanent memory, which cannot be erased, but access to it can be lost.

After the bibliographic research, the CSD matrix was made, which is a technique used in the market, mainly for the creation of new products or tools. It takes into account the theoretical, practical, and even opinions of the project participants.

In order to effectively align the vision, the information, as well as making the project develop with less disagreement and greater possibility of initial adjustment, there is the CSD Matrix, which translates into certainties, assumptions and doubts. SEBRAE, 2019

Where the certainties already presented by other articles were noted, the assumptions that had been raised as a result of the bibliography research, and the doubts that arose because there was no information on the subject.

When the entire team reaches consensus on a certain point, this information is placed on the part of certainties. When divergent opinions are expressed, each one goes to the part of assumptions. Finally, important information about which nothing is known yet is placed in the doubt area. SEBRAE, 2019

With these assumptions and doubts, there is a guideline for the development of the research as well as a guideline in case of interviews or surveys with users. The assumptions were raised based on the theoretical questions presented here. The doubts were built based on daily and unofficial observations, but they raise possibilities for tests with real users, as well as interviews and possible field studies.

The main question raised in the matrix is: how much people have used smartphone technology and mobile internet to decrease their cognitive and memory load, due to the fact that mobile technology has become part of everyday life and almost an extension of our body and memory?

However, in order to validate or refute the hypotheses, as well as to resolve the doubts raised, it would be necessary to understand the real behavior of users and see them using technologies in their daily lives.

Theoretical conclusion and next steps

The present article had its initial objectives achieved since the bibliographic research was carried out, and it was noted that authors from different times and with different experiences have similar views on the point of how people make use of it and may end up dependent on technology for storing information. However, the theoretical research and the hypotheses raised have not been validated.

From the survey and theoretical basis, we propose that the next step is to collect practical information in the field to solve the doubts that are presented in the CSD matrix. Since the data can be cross-referenced in a quantitative and qualitative way for better refinement of the information.

To create the best UX, pay attention to what users do, not what they say. Self-reported statements are unreliable, as are speculations from users about future behavior. (NIELSEN, 2001)

Researches with users and accompaniments are suggested, for example, Shadowings, Usage Diaries and interviews (face-to-face or remote), for a better understanding of the real behavior and thus making a crossing of information with the theoretical research mentioned here. Thus, validating or refuting the hypothesis that mobile technology has interference in the memory of people today.



CYBIS, Walter; BERTIOL, Adriana Holtz; FAUST, Richard . Ergonomia e usabilidade: Conhecimentos, Métodos e Aplicações. 3. ed. São Paulo: Novatec, 2015.

G1. Mais da metade da população mundial usa internet, aponta ONU. 2018. Disponível em: Acesso em: 26 abr. 2020.

HALBWACHS, Maurice. A memória coletiva. São Paulo: Vértice, 1990. Tradução: Eduardo Loureiro Jr., março de 2000. http://www.pá

LATOUR, Bruno. Reagregando o Social: uma introdução à Teoria do Ator-Rede. Trad. Gilson César Cardoso de Sousa. Salvador/Bauru: Edufba/Edusc, 2012, 399p.

LEVY, Pierre. A Inteligência Coletiva: por uma antropologia do ciberespaço. 6ed. São Paulo: Edições Loyola, 2010.

NIELSEN, Jacob. First Rule of Usability? Don’t Listen to Users. 2001. Disponível em: Acesso em: 26 abr. 2011.

NUNES, Priscila Chagas. Cultura Digital e as Tecnologias da Memória no Ciberespaço. In: ALGAR , 10. 2015, Porto Alegre.

OLIVEIRA, Priscila Chagas; NUNES, João Fernando Igansi. Cultura Digital e as Tecnologias da Memória no Ciberespaço. In: ENCONTRO NACIONAL DA HISTÓRIA DA MÍDIA, 10., 2015, Porto Alegre.

ONU. UIT: mundo está mais conectado à Internet, mas desigualdades permanecem: uit: mundo está mais conectado à internet, mas desigualdades permanecem. UIT: mundo está mais conectado à Internet, mas desigualdades permanecem. 2016. Disponível em: Acesso em: 26 abr. 2020.

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SANTAELLA, Lucia. Navegar no ciberespaço: o perfil cognitivo do leitor imersivo. São Paulo: Paulus, 2004.

SEBRAE. ENTENDA O QUE É MATRIZ CSD. 2019. Disponível em: Acesso em: 10 fev. 2020

SEGATA, Jean. Lontras e a Construção de Laços no Orkut. 2007. 123f. Dissertação (Mestrado) — Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia Social da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. Santa Catarina, 2007.

SKINNER, B.F. Sobre o behaviorismo. 1. ed. São Paulo : Cultrix, 1998.

STERNBERG, R. J. Psicologia cognitiva. Tradução de Maria Regina Borges Osório. Porto Alegre: Artmed Editora, 2000

The influence of mobile technology on user cognition and memory was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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