Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 August 2019

We were not designed to spend hours hunched over a screen

Postural and spinal problems have become a symptom of the modern age

Smartphones and electronic devices often mean we are unplugged from the real world
Smartphones and electronic devices often mean we are unplugged from the real world

If you’re reading this article on your smartphone, 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 designed 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.

Updated: January 13, 2019 07:55 PM

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