Technology doesn't just mess with our heads, it messes with our bodies. Our handheld devices are degrading our health in ways we might not even realize. Whether it's unexpected stuff like enlarged mutant thumbs from swiping through our news feeds or more serious consequences like chronic back pain, here's how our bodies are being affected by our tech dependance.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the human brain develops until the age of 25. The vast majority of our generation spends up to 18 hours a day online, but our brains are still developing. Frequent internet users show twice as much activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is used for short-term memory and quick decision making. As a result, you skim over details instead of developing focus.
"In many ways, we have become more efficient, better connected, and more productive, thanks to technology," says Gary W. Small, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "But there's a health cost to these innovations that impacts multiple body parts—including the brain—which experiences stress, inattention, and impaired memory ability from multitasking."
According to the Obesity Action Coalition, 93 million Americans are obese, which makes us a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and heart disease. And it doesn't help that 40 percent of all American adults don't do any exercise in their leisure time—as many would much rather scroll through their news feeds.
"Technology encourages physical inactivity," says John G. Georgiadis, a biomedical engineering professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. "Lack of physical activity is associated with frailty and skeletal muscle atrophy," adding that it's a "risk factor for decreasing the quality of life of the elderly." The American College of Cardiology's recent report shows that with a higher tech usage, there is a tendency to eat more (and often unhealthy, sugar-filled snacks).
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Oh, now that your fuckparts are involved, you're listening? Yes, your sex drive is being affected by technology. Despite all the porn out there, it's actually making us less horny. Scrolling before sleep is a turnoff to the partners we sleep beside, according Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, a marriage therapist who says that laptops and smartphones are a distraction. And it's not just here in the States. In a Daily Mirror article, sex therapist Denise Knowles points to a recent survey in the UK that showed that one third of people answer their phones during sex. Gaming is also apparently lowering our sex drive, as men who game more than an hour daily are bound to be less interested in sex.
Your texting addiction may be turning you into a mutant. Kind of. Whether it's the 'phone claw,' 'iPhone thumb' or the 'iPad hand,' our hands could be changing due to our daily use of our handheld devices. We scroll and swipe all day, but it's usually the right thumb we use, if we're right handed, and left, if we're left handed. Likewise, many people think their smartphones have enlarged their thumbs by as much as 15 percent, according to (an admittedly unscientific survey) by Spanish telecommunications company Telefónica.
Meanwhile, tennis elbow is a term for strenuous overuse of the elbow joint, often by sitting at our computers all day. Daily tech use leads to joint problems with the neck, elbows and fingers, which increases use of pain medications and, ironically, will make you much less productive. "Texting on a mobile phone involves repetitive hand motions and unsupported neck flexion," Georgiadis says. "This has both short-term and long-term effects in terms of musculoskeletal disorders in the neck, and upper extremities."
Considering we spend most of our days looking down at our phones (when we're not hunched over our laptops), it goes without saying we have bad posture. When we're in this stance, the head is no longer supported by the vertebrae, but only by the neck, which is why the neck feels strained while gazing down at our phones. "Tech neck," as experts call it, is not a good look.
Our eyes are getting strained from spending so much time online—but it's in less obvious ways. Even when we are not glued to our phone screens, we put our eyes at risk. "Cell phone use makes someone who is driving their car less aware of the surroundings and more susceptible to accidents," Georgiadis says.
It affects our eyes before sleeping, too. New blue light emitting diodes, which are used in white LED lights, interrupt normal sleep patterns. "Blue light decreases production of melatonin, suppresses delta brain waves which induce sleep and boost alpha waves, which create alertness," he adds. "Chronic sleep deficit is associated with memory impairment and is implicated in the development of neurodegenerative diseases."
We know this already, but it's still worthy of drilling into our heads. We stare at our phones in such a way that the spine is affected by a forward-leaning tilt towards our handheld devices. It's damaging our backs to the point that it could eventually require surgery to correct our postures. "Prolonged, passive sitting increases the likelihood of suffering from chronic, lower back pain," Georgiadis says. "It's the most common form of chronic pain."
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