The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken Macken.deirdre@

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.

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