June 14, 2010As I was driving to work this morning, I noted a number of people shuffling along the sidewalks, eyes peering down at their mobile devices with their fingers tap-tapping away. While stopped at an intersection, I actually witnessed someone collide with a passerby walking in the opposite direction….kaboom! The "typer" was so engrossed in what he was writing that he simply did not realize he was on a collision course with someone else. Luckily, there was no serious damage, except for perhaps some scattered papers and a bruised ego. But the result could have been more serious. And this isn’t the worse I have seen – I’ve even seen bicyclists text and ride --- how they do it, I don’t know nor do I want to try it!
Indeed, with the rising popularity of mobile technology, this is not uncommon to see. We have grown increasingly connected to the world around us through laptops, cell phones, personal organizers, and mobile everything -- but what many of us do not realize is that being so connected can be harmful to our health.
The risks of working at a computer for too long have been well emphasized for years. Overuse of electronic devices -- commonly computers but also video games and mobile phones -- can lead to repetitive strain injuries. This is a general term that refers to the strain in the upper extremities from prolonged repetitive activities, like typing. Have your heard of the “Blackberry thumb”? This is a relatively new term to describe the pain arising in one’s thumbs and wrists from repetitive typing on the tiny keypads. It’s not just our arms that can become painful. Poor posture while using these devices puts us at risk for chronic low back pain, neck pain, and even eye strain.
I’m sure you know about the dangers of driving while texting. According to NHTSA, 5870 deaths and 515,000 injuries were caused by distracted drivers in 2009; of these, texting drivers were 23. times more likely than nontexting drivers to be involved in a collision. Everyone, especially Oprah, is rightfully raising awareness of the dangers of distracted drivers. But you may not be aware that there are numerous other types of injuries occurring from excessive use of computers. Did you realize that in the last few years, there have been over 70,000 emergency room visits for computer-related injuries, most commonly tripping and falling over computer equipment? This is certainly a testament to how dangerous technology can be!
Technology certainly can improve many aspects of our life. But like most things, it needs to be used in moderation to maximize our health. Though we may think it absolutely essential to send that email or text message immediately, sometimes it’s best to take a break and disconnect for a little while. Our thumbs will thank us.