We were not meant to spend hours hunched over a screen

Pos­tural and spinal prob­lems have be­come a symp­tom of our in­creas­ingly net­worked age

The National - News - - OPINION -

If you’re read­ing this ar­ti­cle on a phone, per­haps you should glance away now. It’s hard to over­state the ben­e­fits of the tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion that has al­lowed us to go shop­ping, watch a film and com­mu­ni­cate with friends and strangers on a de­vice held in the palm of our hand. But for all the tech­ni­cal bril­liance that has made the per­sonal de­vice in­dis­pens­able in the mod­ern world, there is a glar­ing flaw in the tech­nol­ogy – us.

The news that the un­nat­u­ral pos­ture de­manded by ex­ces­sive use of smart­phones and tablets is lead­ing to spinal prob­lems in chil­dren should come as lit­tle sur­prise. The anatomy of the mod­ern hu­man be­ing is the prod­uct of mil­lions of years of evo­lu­tion, de­signed to master the many phys­i­cal tasks vi­tal to our an­ces­tors’ ex­is­tence. What we were not meant to do was to spend hours each day with heads bowed and shoul­ders hunched, yet “tech neck” is the defin­ing pos­ture of our times. In cafes, cars and cin­e­mas, we sit in iso­la­tion, star­ing at the vir­tual world in our hands while the ac­tual world passes by vir­tu­ally un­no­ticed. In malls, we walk with heads bowed, a haz­ard to our fel­low smart­phone zom­bies. On busy streets, obliv­i­ous to the world around us, we risk our lives by stray­ing into the path of speed­ing cars.

We can­not, of course, turn back the clock – this tech­no­log­i­cal ge­nie is well and truly out of the bot­tle. But if we are to pre­vent a gen­er­a­tion of young screen ad­dicts grow­ing up with a range of en­tirely avoid­able phys­i­cal prob­lems, we must en­sure the ben­e­fits of the small screen are not out­weighed by the harms. Par­ents have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to limit the time their chil­dren spend on­line and must set an ex­am­ple by set­ting aside their own de­vices dur­ing fam­ily time. Tablets are now an in­dis­pens­able part of ed­u­ca­tion but schools must think care­fully about how much time they are ask­ing pupils to spend on them. The Road to Homo Sapiens, an il­lus­tra­tion first pub­lished in 1965, de­picted the stages of 20 mil­lion years of hu­man evo­lu­tion. To that fa­mil­iar trope we are in dan­ger of adding the sil­hou­ette of a stooped, evo­lu­tion­ary throw­back, gaz­ing not to the fu­ture but down­wards.

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