We all do it… get all tucked up in bed and then have a quick browse of Facebook, check your texts, watch a quick cat video. But there are actually some serious ramifications of these seemingly harmless habits. Bright artificial light can wreak havoc with your circadian rhythm, the internal clock that regulates your sleeping habits. At around 9 pm at night, the body releases a hormone called melatonin, which signals the brain that it’s time to sleep. However, staring at screens within the hour immediately before sleep can suppress the production of melatonin by 22% severely damaging a person’s ability to drift off. This is a much more serious problem than you might initially think. A loss of sleep has been conclusively linked to depression, obesity, diabetes and even serious cardiovascular disease. And it’s becoming quite a pandemic. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that a huge 95% of those surveyed use electronics in the hour before bed, and 63% felt they were not getting enough sleep.
2. Sitting Down
Since the mid-20th century, there has been a boom in technology-oriented seated jobs, for example, office work or professional driving. Such jobs have quickly come to overtake more traditional labor-based work… like agriculture or factory production – industries in which technology has also led to the replacement of some workers with machinery. As a result of these shifting employment trends, the average American worker now spends approximately 13 hours every day sat down. And this could be deadly. Research has shown that sitting for prolonged periods causes muscles to stiffen blood to circulate poorly, and cholesterol to drop by an average of 20%. Not only this, but sitting for over 12 hours a day has also been proved to contribute to higher risks of cardiovascular problems and cancer….as well as making you 90% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This is especially a problem considering how most recreational technologies – from TVs to video games – require us to spend much of our evenings seated as well.
3. Repetitive Strain Injury
Repetitive Strain Injury has become increasingly common in the technological age. Recording to figures from the UK Health and Safety Executive, 21% of adults suffered from it in 2015, compared to just 15% ten years before. It’s caused by the constant tiny movements you make when typing on a keyboard, moving a mouse, or texting on a phone, for example. Basically, what happens is that the repetitive movements irritate your tendons through regular friction. This causes swelling, which presses painfully on your nerves. And this can be much more debilitating than you would probably expect. Okay, it’s probably not going to kill you, but it is not a condition that should be underestimated. According to Dr. Mary Barbe from the department of anatomy and cell biology at Temple University, injured cells release substances called cytokines… which travel through the bloodstream and can be toxic to nerve cells and other cells. This means that, if left untreated, RSI can actually put an individual at risk of limb paralysis or even Raynaud’s Disease… which involves the dangerous interruption of blood circulation.
4. Wi-Fi Kills Sperm
Again, this next one is not actually going to kill you, but it deserves a spot on this list because of the potential ramifications it could have for the future of humanity. That is to say, it could kill your children before they’ve even been born. In 2011 scientists at the Nascentis Medicina Reproductiva in Argentina conducted a study storing some sperm samples underneath a Wi-Fi-emitting laptop for four hours. What they found was that over 25% of the sperm in their sample lost all mobility during the test compared to just 14% from the control sample that had been left underneath a laptop with the Wi-Fi switched off. The Wi-Fi-affected sperm was also three times more likely to show signs of DNA damage than the control group. This isn’t to say that Wi-Fi definitely and irrefutably damages your swimmers… but the study did illustrate enough of a pattern for the scientific community to recommend further testing into its effects. But maybe it’s best not to rest your laptop on your crotch all that often… just to be on the safe side.
5. Social Isolation
Stepping away from the physical side effects of a high-tech lifestyle now. The computer age has also been accused of having a devastating impact on people’s mental health. The American Public Health Association concluded that there is – ‘increasing evidence that the internet and social media can influence suicide-related behavior’ – through intensifying feelings of loneliness, depression, and social isolation. For example, a study conducted by the University of Michigan found a decline in happiness and life satisfaction among Facebook users. Participants in the study admitted that using the site to see what their Facebook friends were up to could see them comparing their own Hues to the custom-picked representations other users chose to put online. There is also the increasingly serious problem of cyberbullying… which sees the internet used as a platform for venerable individuals to be targeted and manipulated, potentially with devastating results. Recording to a 2004 survey, approximately 35% of children have been threatened on social media and – with the difficulty of policing what adolescents have access to online – it’s becoming more and more tricky to keep children safe.
6. Online Doctors
It’s so tempting when you get the odd headache pain, or rash to use one of the countless online doctors that have set up practices on the web in the last couple of decades. Sometimes they can offer invaluable advice, but they can also be quite risky. There are two ways online doctors can be problematic. Firstly, you can Google your symptoms and be reassured that there’s nothing wrong, when in reality it could be something you should have visited your doctor about. A 2014 study in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research argued that the ‘quality of the information and cost-effectiveness of online doctor consultations are uncertain and need to be evaluated carefully’. Secondly, there’s the modern phenomenon of ‘cyber-hypochondria’ whereby an individual becomes convinced that they’re sicker than they actually are thanks to access to websites detailing all the worst-case scenarios. Dr. Brian Fallon from Columbia University argued that the internet has undeniably worsened the problem of hypochondria which – according to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School – now accounts for 16% of all medical costs in the US. This is a major danger to modern healthcare services, which may struggle to manage this increasing demand.
There is evidence to suggest that maintaining our technology-littered lifestyles might not just be risky to human life, but potentially to the future of the entire planet. Take the not-so-humble iPhone, for example. The manufacture of a single phone releases 57kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To put this into context, to manufacture all of the 72 million phones sold each year. Releases the same amount of carbon dioxide that a Boeing 747 would flying non-stop for 14.5 years or to keep the average light bulb lit for 35 million years. Since the 17th century, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 34% and it’s estimated that as a result, the average global temperature could increase by 5.8 degrees between now and 2100. But it’s not just C02, industrial production releases many other pollutants into the atmosphere and pollution is one of the leading causes of serious breathing impairment, asthma, which affects 25 million people in the US alone.
8. Office-Related Hazards
While we’re on the topic of asthma, did you realize that your printer could be increasing your chances of developing the condition? A study from the Queensland University of Technology found that 40% of laser printers shoot out ultra-fine particles which can easily lodge deep in your lungs if you breathe them in. And this isn’t the only health-hazard you’ll find in your average office environment. Swedish researchers discovered that many computers contain a fire-proof coating to protect the computer parts. When the computer warms up with use, the toxic fumes from this coating are released into the air which can lead to skin irritation, headaches, or allergic reactions if released into poorly ventilated areas. Shockingly, the researchers identified this coating as triphenyl phosphate – which is also used in sheep dip and chemical weapons. But I know what you’re thinking I don’t need to worry because my office has air-conditioning. But there are also risks associated with poorly maintained air-conditioning systems which can contribute to spreading infectious airborne disease as they continuously recycle the same air. For example, in the 1990s, several cases of Legionnaires’ Disease in the UK were traced back to contaminated air con units spreading the infection.
The average American spends 35 hours and 28 minutes watching television every week as well as 10 hours 30 minutes on their phones and 20 hours browsing the web. But shockingly – they spend less than 2 hours a week exercising. The link between a sedentary lifestyle and obesity is pretty undeniable. And it’s not just that people are spending too much time glued to the screen when they could be exercising technology has a huge impact on our nutrition. First of all, advert breaks are full of high-definition, hunger-inducing, slow-motion shots of food. Secondly, it’s been shown that people tend to pay less attention to their eating habits when watching TU or a movie. In fact, these pastimes are usually associated with high-calorie foods, such as fast food or sugary snacks. Obesity puts an individual at risk of a whole host of serious health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and many, many others. Treatment of obesity-related illness costs the US an unbelievable $190 billion a year, or 21 % of annual medical spending.
At any given moment in America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using their phones while driving. As a result, texting or speaking on the phone is the biggest contributor to road accidents caused by distracted drivers, which kill over 3,000 people every year. To show how dangerous cell phone distraction can be, David Strayer from the University of Utah conducted a study into just how much it affects drivers. Using a driving simulator, he tested the abilities of a number of subjects while their blood alcohol level was 0.08, aka the drink-drive limit. He then tested the same subjects a fern days later, completely sober, but texting while they drive. And guess what? People on the phone are just as impaired as they are when intoxicated. And don’t think that hands-free phones are that much better. Scientists at the University of Sussex monitored the brain activity of drivers using such headsets, and it emerged that the part of the brain usually used to watch the road is instead preoccupied visually, imagining what they are discussing.