Technologys Effect on Our Health the Good the Bad and the Ugly

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Technology's Effect on Our Health: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Technology's effect on our health represented by runner holding mobile phone

Do you remember when your parents would scold you for sitting too close to the television? They always warned us that the screens would rot our brains and our eyes would fall out. When cell phones came out, everyone said the radiation from them was damaging our brain cells.

Now, things really aren't much different. New technologies are introduced every single day, and with them new concerns. So what is technology's effect on our health, really? 

Is Technology Making Us Lazy? 

When you search for "technology makes us lazy" online you’re bombarded with lists of reasons why everyone believe tech may be holding us back, physically. Of course, not all of the data presented for these arguments are objective. Some are but not all. Let’s take a look at why people believe technology’s effect on our health could be negative. 

A few years ago, The Next Web reported “11 Ways Tech Has Made Us Lazy”. Author and Social Media Editor for the company, Sherilyn Macale, wrote the following blurb about why she believes tech is making us lazy, as a result of entertainment always being at our fingertips: 

“From the comfort of my own apartment, while watching the fight on Pay Per View, I can pause mid-match to double check that my favorite songs on iTunes have been downloaded or my playlists on Spotify synced to my smartphone. I switch inputs on my television to my PS3 which has a Blu-Ray DVD of Avatar in to watch one of my favorite clips. I then slip on my XBOX 360 headset to flip inputs again and finish up party chatting with my friends list, as they’ve been waiting for me to play a session of Call of Duty with them. After a quick round, I flip back to Pay Per View, resume the fight, and tweet out what’s happening on screen like a sports announcer, amusing myself with the flood of replies.” 

Man sleeping on a couch shows technology's effect on our healthIt's easy to read this blurb and scoff a little at the scenario. Is anyone really switching back and forth from their PPV to iTunes to their PS3 to their XBOX and back? Maybe, but probably not as commonly as Macale is sensationalizing it in this article. Also, this was in 2011, before the Hulu-Netflix-Amazon Video wars, and Apple Music versus Spotify became a thing. A lot has changed since then. For one, our access to entertainment has only become easier and more immediate. 

In contrast to Macale's point, Author Lauren Lanna for The Odyssey recently wrote about why technology does not make us lazier. Rather, it offers us opportunities to actively seeking out new knowledge, to be more engaged with the world and others rather than less. In her article titled, Technology Does Not Make Our Generation Lazy, she explains that technology allows users to have access to more information than imaginable with just the click of a button: 

"I have any information I could ever need at the touch of a finger, and I can spend less time clarifying and researching facts, and more time learning new things that are interesting and unique to me. I work just as hard at school and at my job despite my cell phone use on breaks and free time. In many ways my phone is like an add-on to my arm, but I don't use it to cause problems or seem uninterested in the world around me. In fact, many times its the other way around. - And just because I may use more technology in my daily life does not mean I am lazy." 

So, can all of this ease-of-access actually make us lazy? Does it make us more productive? That may be up to us, ultimately. We make the decision every day as to whether or not we should research something new, take a walk, or watch Orange is the New Black. A great number of us may choose the walk, while some will choose Netflix. Is that really the technology's fault? You tell me

Are Screens Impacting Our Eyesight? 

Woman shows signs of digital eye strainThis is one of the most common concerns associated with the evolution of technology: Do digital devices really cause eye strain? According to The Vision Council, the short answer is yes. They write, "Many individuals suffer from physical eye discomfort after screen use for longer than two hours at a time." Have you ever looked at your phone in the middle of the night, only to be partially blinded by the brightness? Our eyes did not develop to read tiny text on tiny screens with bright lights. 

It’s not only our eyes that may be affected, however. Some worry that digital eye strain may also affect your head, neck, and shoulders, depending on your posture as you use different devices. If you find yourself with seemingly causeless head and neck aches, you might want to consider adjusting your posture and/or reducing your screen time a bit. You could try reading a book, going for a walk, etc. 

For those of us who are required to spend at least eight hours a week day in front of a computer, The Vision Council gives the following tips on how to reduce digital eye strain:

  • Following the 20-20-20 rule, taking a 20-second break from the screen every 20 minutes and looking at something 20 feet away
  • Reduce overhead lighting to eliminate screen glare
  • Position yourself at arm's distance away from the screen for proper viewing distance when at a computer
  • Increase text size on devices to ease content viewing

Are There Any Positives to Technology’s Effect On Our Health? 

There’s something to be said for an age in which counting our steps via tech tools has become trendy. While physical health is likely still not as important to as many of us as it should be, smart tech has made fitness a lot more fun for some.  

Athlete using smartwatchHere are some ways that technology has positively impacted our health: 

A mobile application called Achievemint was designed to connect to other health and fitness related apps you might have on your phone. You earn points for any bit of activity you do. Once your reach 10,000 points you earn $10! Most of us would be encouraged to do something physical if the reward was monetary.  

Another app that follows along these same lines is Charity Miles. With this app, any time you log miles for walking, running, or cycling, money will be donated to your charity of choice. This technology positively impacts not only our health, but also our passions for meaningful causes. 

Of course, one of the most incredible things technology has done for our health is revolutionizing healthcare for the present and future of humanity. Recently, doctors in Minnesota used 3D printing and virtual reality to safely and effectively separate conjoined twin infants. Before the implementation of these types of technologies, those conjoined twins may not have survived. We also have Chatbots that are helping to ease new mothers into the complexities of breastfeeding. And major procedures have become much less invasive with the implementation of robotic laparoscopic surgeries.  

The point is, even if technology has impacted our health in some negative ways, it has also provided some incredible positive opportunities and revolutions for the long-term improvement of our health. 

So, what do you think? Is technology's effect on our health negative or positive from your perspective? Is there a gray area? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook page!

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Bekah Witten
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Bekah is the content writer for the University of South Florida department of Information Technology.