The news that young people have lost their grip popped up on my phone while travelling on a bus. So, I was able to test it. According to the Journal of Hand Therapy, the average hand strength of a 30-year-old is weaker than it was in 1985 because they never used monkey bars as children and the only thing they never lose grip of is a 140g phone.
According to my research, they don’t hang on in buses either. They swing around like buoys in a storm, or stretch themselves between poles like octopuses, or spend the trip glaring at sitting passengers, who get to swipe screens rather than test their prehensile muscles.
But it’s not just the ability to grip stuff that is different about today’s average commuter. People on the bus are examples of the sort of humans the modern world is creating. Take the swiping, for instance. The human thumb hasn’t had such a workout since the days of spear throwing. According to research, all that swiping and texting has created thumbs that are stronger, faster (and more opinionated) than ever. That’s the good news. Every other part of the body is looking like the appendix of our era.
Take eyesight. If you’ve wondered why more young people are wearing glasses, it’s because they can’t see. Or more precisely, they can’t see long distances because they are always looking at tiny type on screens or firing at cartoon terrorists hiding behind cartoon buildings. China, for instance, has a generation of myopic youth because they can’t see the trees for the screens.
My study of the people on the bus confirms everyone has a phone screen in front of their face, no one ever looks out the window and if a gorilla were to hop on the bus nobody would notice — unless it forgot to swipe its metro card.
That brings us to another part of the anatomy that is being shaped by the digital age. Posture. Or, more precisely, it’s the text neck, the iPad hunch or the selfie chin snap. Neck pain, shoulder misalignment and spinal curve are the most common outcomes of screen posture but perhaps the worst is that you look so simian. And a gorilla in glasses is not a sexy look.
The ability to sit up straight is another casualty. Apart from the iPad hunch, more people are standing at desks, lounging with the laptop or doing the bus seat swivel to avoid having others read incriminating screens. The only time the average bus commuter sits up straight is when an inspector gets on the bus.
There are less obvious anatomical handicaps on the bus. And one of these can be discovered when you ask anyone for directions. They don’t know how to do it because their reliance on GPS maps has wiped out their mental maps of the world. They often don’t even know where they are because the last time they looked up they were six suburbs away.
Yet another silent evolution of the sedentary screen generation is memory. No one can recite anything from memory because of Google. They don’t have to remember the names of songs because Shazam tells them; they don’t have to remember the date because it’s on the front page of the screen; and they don’t have to remember to take an umbrella because they looked up the rain radar before they left home.
They also don’t have to make plans. For ex- ample, they don’t remember meetings because they know the diary will alert them; they don’t plan what bus they’re going to catch because an app tells them how far away it is; they don’t have to plan shopping trips because they will just be annoying and ring home from the cereal aisle. They don’t bother to remember what time they’re meeting friends because everyone is going to change it anyway.
As people get off the bus, it’s tempting to conclude that digital humanity is a hunched, near-sighted, limp-wristed know-nothing who would get lost down the street if they left their smartphone at home. But they’re not.
Lots of people on buses have muscles. But they’re just for show. The muscles are there to prove that they could swing through trees, stalk tigers and wrestle the alpha male in the tribe for wife rights. But they don’t have to. They have a mean right thumb instead. gmail.com