Devil in our gadgets

The boon of technology is fast becoming the bane of the modern life

Enter any gadget gallery at random and meet with devices that will make you feel ‘paleolithic’ no matter how up-to-date you are. The ontogeny of technology in our lives—offices, homes, hotels, washrooms, cars, on our laps, inside our ears, in our pockets and those emotionally gripped in our hands—is manifesting itself in more ways than it was intended to. If you are feeling depressed, having a severe pain in the neck or back or wondering why your thumb is numb, you need to look beyond the devices’ user manual.

While the couch potatoes [TV addicts] suffer primarily with issues relating to sleep, back pain, obesity, compulsive eating syndrome and plain addiction to the idiot box, the finer, modern technology is taking its toll on both physical and psychological fronts. Enough evidence is available about the ill-effects of the cell-phone towers’ airwaves. They’ve even  proved disastrous for the once ubiquitous sparrows that have become extinct in cities along with certain varieties of birds. Here are some of the deadly problems rapidly surfacing in an increasingly technology driven world.

Thumbs down

The ‘Blackberry Thumb’ syndrome—a term given to an injury that smart phones and gaming devices cause to compulsive users is no more a rarity. It begins with pain, swelling and stiffness at the base of the thumb due to an irritation of the muscles. The symptoms include aching and throbbing pain in the thumb [or sometimes other fingers] and in the wrist and may cause disability of the hands.

For whom the bell rings

Have you ever felt that your mobile phone is ringing or vibrating even when it’s not? Terms such as ‘Faux alarm’, ‘Ringxiety’ or the ‘Phantom Ringing Syndrome [PRS]’, are used for those suffering with this syndrome as they often ‘hear’ their mobile phone ringing or ‘feel’ it vibrating, only to discover it was a false alarm! This could mostly happen when you are sleeping or when busy doing office work or household chores.

Sticking out your neck

Perhaps, one of the most common is the ‘Texters Neck’ or ‘Text Neck’ syndrome that is linked with people using mobile phones, laptops or tablets. Keeping the neck and head stretched forwards for long periods puts a heavy strain on the neck and eventually causes the natural curvature of the neck to reverse, leading to serious neck problems.

The laptop thigh

Laptops give us the flexibility of movement but working for hours, with it perched on the lap, could result in a serious skin problem known as the ‘Toasted Skin Syndrome.’ The name arises as a result of discolouration of the skin on the lap, which makes it look patchy. In medical terms, it is known as ‘Erythema Ab Igne’ and commonly known as ‘Laptop Thigh.’ Stagnation of blood causes pigmentation of the skin and patches.

Microwaving the brain

The World Health Organization [WHO] has long ago announced that there is a potential risk of cancer being caused from mobile phone radiation, since they emit signals in the form of microwaves. The use of mobile phones for a prolonged duration enables the radiation to get in direct contact with the tissues in the brain. This can affect changes in the brain cells which may become cancerous and cause a rare type of tumour that develops in the brain or the spine.

Strangely numb

It starts with a burning sensation, shooting pain as well as numbness in the hands which eventually spreads to other parts of the body over time. The pain usually gets worse while doing an activity. The hands of the users become weak and they find it hard in maintaining a grip on even small objects. The ‘Repetitive Stress Injury’ [RSI] happens by repeating the same activities without adequate ergonomic care. People working in front of computers for hours, as well as those texting excessively on their mobile phones are more susceptible to this injury.

For your eyes only

Regular computer users suffer from various eye related problems which are collectively termed as ‘Computer Vision Syndrome.’ Looking at computer screens for long hours can cause overall eye tiredness, reduced eyesight, blurred vision, dry eye syndrome and glaucoma [increased pressure in the eye].

Though the modern LCD screens strain the eyes less than the older screens, but at high intensity even they can cause extensive damage. Many people experience eye discomfort and vision anomalies when viewing a computer screen for extended periods. The level of discomfort increases with the amount of computer usage.

Silent ‘ear’drums

Take a look at people at the bus stand, metro stations or those just walking on the streets and jogging in the parks with headphones plugged into their ears. These music connoisseurs are enjoying their favourite music stored on their iPods while others tune into FM stations. Little do they realise that most of them have already damaged their ear drums. The proliferation of portable music players and other items that attach into the ears including cell phones is playing havoc, as the adverse impact of headphones on the ear normally takes a few years to reveal itself.

On back-burner

It is always the back which bears the brunt while one is working on a laptop or computer. Lower back pain is common among people who hunch over laptops while working and have a bad posture while sitting/standing. Incorrect posture affects the shape of the spine adversely and causes pain in the muscles of the shoulders and the back and it can be quite crippling.

Sleep disruption

Gadgets cause distraction of a peculiar kind. People are busy using tablets, laptops, phones, gaming gadgets or TV rather whimsically. There is no sense of timing and while some spend all their time on the social media or surfing the Internet, others spend the night talking on the phone, or on Skype.

For those using gadgets immediately before going to bed, they befriend sleeplessness. The body when exposed to the bright artificial light of the screens reduces the production of the sleep inducing hormone called melatonin. Instead, it promotes alertness in the body, which makes falling asleep difficult and can enhance sleep disorders.

Tired and depressed?

Spending long hours at the computer could cause the ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ [CFS] leading to a feeling of tiredness or severe fatigue that lasts for many weeks or even months. Those suffering with this disorder usually complain of severe fatigue that gets worse even by a simple action. They suffer from depression, sore throat, headache and muscle pain.

Lifestyle revamp [Freedom from gadget related ailments]

The Internet and desk based jobs have given rise to many joint ailments. Knee pain due to continuous sitting in the same position in cold temperature is commonly known as the ‘office-knee’. Researchers in the UK have found that more than a quarter of its country’s workers are suffering from painful knee joints and doctors have attributed this to rising levels of obesity and desk-based jobs across all age groups. There is hardly any doubt that with technology becoming a persistent companion, lifestyle modifications are badly needed.

While there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ remedy to all these modern technology related ailments and syndromes but what can certainly ameliorate them are:

  • Go for regular outdoor exercise
  • Take short breaks during work
  • Mind your posture while on the computer or laptop
  • Do regular neck and shoulder exercises
  • Take a regular night sleep of 8 hours
  • Have green salads daily
  • Wash eyes often with water
  • Take meals on time and drink plenty of water. Remember, even though you control the gadgets, your gadgets too can control you!

This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Ravi Chhabra
Ravi V Chhabra has worked as a journalist for two decades with leading print and online media in India and abroad. His column ‘Flavoursome’ appears in a car magazine and he writes at www.fnbworld.com.

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