Are you sitting up straight as you are reading this? Good for you!
This is a report on something that has been bothering me for some time. After decades of taking inordinate care over the ergonomics of computers and making sure that I did all the right things to avoid the worst effects, tablets and smartphones have snuck in to my life and wrecked all that hard work. The article focuses mainly on the posture we adopt when using smart devices. This little snippet is worth thinking on:
“The average head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. When we bend our necks forward 60 degrees, as we do to use our phones, the effective stress on our neck increases to 60 pounds — the weight of about five gallons of paint. “
As well as the obvious physical issues, the report describes some of the psychological ones, and they are doozies. The hunched posture makes us more depressed, less assertive, with less self-esteem, and with greater anxiety. It can, apparently, even make us more forgetful. This is happening in small ways but at a huge scale: it must be having a significant effect on societies all the way across the planet. Scary.
I doubt that many of us are willing to give up our devices, so we need to work on ways of reducing the ill effects. Smaller devices cause more hunching than larger ones. However I have found larger ones play more havoc with my hand muscles (even the super-light iPad Air 2), so it’s a case of swings and roundabouts. And it doesn’t help much to use stands, because then all the old problems with fixed-screen computers come back to haunt you, this time on even small and brighter screens. I did find a hand-strap worked fairly well for me for a while, until it broke (not a good thing with an expensive device).
The main thing, I believe, is to vary your posture, grip and reading angle/distance as much as you can, as often as you can. If you have been hunched, it also helps to stretch and contract your shoulder blades, and roll your head a bit from time to time. As a musician, I find playing an instrument is not a bad way of putting your fingers and wrists in different positions for a while, but it can be over-done. I’m also a fan of eye exercises: alternately look at very near and very far things for a while every now and then.
We should be teaching this stuff in schools and in public safety videos and posters. It seems to me that this is a massive and increasingly ubiquitous health problem that is all the worse for usually being quite subtle. We are changing not only our physical form but our collective psyche. Throw the known harmful effects of Facebook and its kin into the mix and it’s a recipe for a slow and sad disaster. And we’ll be too depressed to care that it has happened.