Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 Oct

The Physiological Consequences of Being Hyperconnected

smartphoneWhen most people, myself included, discuss the negative effects of staying glued to our smartphones, computers, tablets, and social networking sites at all times, they often focus on everything we miss out on: meaningful interpersonal interactions, quality time spent with our significant others, a beautiful sunset/rise, good booksquality sleep, a great hike, the felt presence of immediate experience, that car barreling down the street toward us as we head into the crosswalk focused on who liked our Facebook post. And those are all important reasons to limit your screen time, but recent research is revealing a series of physiological, physical, and psychological ramifications to being hyperconnected all the time.

According to a recent survey of people in 65 countries, 73.4% of people own a smartphone. Those with smartphones check them an average of 110 times per day, which amounts to every five or six minutes spread out over a twelve hour period. Another study found a slightly higher frequency – 150 times per day. That’s a lot of people with instant, constant access to email, social networking, and text messaging. Not all of them will suffer all or most of these negative effects, but the draw of checking  your phone “just one more time real quick” is obviously difficult to resist. Heck, most people don’t even try to resist it, because staying connected and apprised of everything everywhere can only be a good thing, right?

Let’s take a look at some of the possible consequences:

Text Neck

I first heard about this from Kelly Starrett. When most people text or use a smartphone, they jut their heads forward and bend their necks. It seems harmless and natural, but it places a huge amount of stress on your vertebrae (human heads are really, really big and heavy!) that compounds over time.

Gameboy Back

Pardon the incredibly dated reference to an obsolete gaming device (Gameboys were around, what, fifteen years ago?) and focus on the issue at hand: kids (and adults) who frequently game on smartphones and other handheld devices are placing their thoracic spines in flexion for extended periods of time. It’s similar to text neck, only instead of firing off a quick text, you’re playing a game for minutes or even hours at a time. This can cause the thoracic spine to follow the head and round, perhaps even leading to kyphosis. Growing kids whose skeletal systems are still developing are most vulnerable.

Text Claw

Human hands are incredible. They allow us to manipulate and create thousands of complex tools, tell stories through sign language or the written word, play instruments, lift 500 pounds off the ground, caress loved ones, and cradle a delicate egg or rip a phone book in half. They do a lot of different things, in other words, so when we send texts a hundred times a day and write entire emails using our thumbs, we put our hands through the same contortions over and over again and run the risk of overuse injuries to the tendons in our hands. Unfortunately, text claw isn’t the useful, fearsome bird-of-prey kind of claw. It’s the kind of claw that curtails our everyday abilities and causes immense physical pain. Text claw. Weird, I know. But apparently some people are suffering from it.

Sleep Texting

No, not drunk dialing; sleep texting. It’s a real thing. People are rousing themselves, still half-asleep, in the middle of the night to answer incoming text messages with garbled responses that they don’t remember sending upon waking. In and of itself, sleep texting is bad because it’s disrupting our sleep (even if we don’t remember waking up, we’re still waking up and we can’t just resume where we left off in the sleep cycle). It also suggests a deep and disturbing attachment to our phones.

Phantom Phone Vibration

This is the sensation of feeling your phone vibrating in your pocket even though it is not. Dangerous? No, but it’s a bit alarming to have your mind playing tricks on you like that, isn’t it? One researcher even thinks these phantom vibrations might be “increasing the flow of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine, epinephrine and cortoctropin-releasing hormone and decreasing the flow of serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid.” To me, it sounds like the phantom limb phenomenon, only more sinister: in our minds, our smartphones have become as appendages.

Internet Addiction

Once derided by researchers, Internet Addiction Disorder is now mentioned in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the subject of reams of new research. Plus, even if “Internet Addiction” never receives official validation, people are displaying the classic symptoms of addiction, receiving Facebook “Likes” gives a hit of dopamine to your reward system, and people with IAD show similar neurobiological abnormalities with other established addictive disorders. Teens with IAD, for example, have elevated sympathetic nervous system activation with lower heart rate variability. The first IAD inpatient program has even popped up at a Pennsylvania hospital (it won’t be the last, I’d wager).

Depression

On the surface, one would think that checking our Facebook, sending texts, reading emails, and sharing Instagram photos should us feel like we’re establishing and maintaining meaningful connections with other humans, but the reality is that these pursuits taken to an extreme only make us feel more isolated from and less connected with real people. In fact, the more frequently you use social media or check your phone the more likely you are to report feeling sad, depressed, and lonely. A recent study in young adults showed that Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being, while “direct” contact with people does not. Some clinicians even have a name for it: Facebook depression.

On top of all those physical and psychological consequences, we’re also missing out on the other stuff I mentioned at the start – the conversations, the smiles, the laughs, the everyday bits and pieces of life occurring right in front of our perpetually averted eyes.

All that said, I’m no Luddite. I own a smartphone which I use daily, have a computer and a Facebook account because these are immensely powerful, useful tools that if harnessed correctly can improve the quality of our lives and our work. Plus, we don’t have to suffer from these maladies. Just knowing that they’re a possibility helps us avoid or mitigate them:

Text neck or Gameboy back? Bring the device closer to eye level, close enough that you can see what you’re doing without moving your head, neck, or flexing your thoracic spine.

Text claw? Don’t use a single thumb for everything. Use your index finger to type on your phone.

Sleep texting? If you’re not already doing it, I wouldn’t worry too much. If you are, stick your phone in another room, well out of arm’s reach, at night. And when you do wake up in the middle of the night, try not to make the conscious, waking decision to check your phone. It can wait. Really.

Internet-enabled or -enhanced depression and Internet addiction are bigger, gnarlier issues without easy answers. It’s not as simple as “just stopping” or “cutting back,” just as it’s not realistic to tell most alcoholics to “just quit drinking” or “switch to beer.” I’ve outlined some helpful strategies for reducing your time spent connected before, but I’ve also got a few additional tips:

Delete the Facebook app (or any app you need a break from) from your phone. You can always re-download the thing when you really have (want) to log on, but that’s a high enough hurdle to keep you from constantly, mindlessly checking it.

Call, don’t text. Instead of sending twenty consecutive text messages, consider placing a call and hearing another person’s actual voice.

Use on a schedule. Check your phone/email/Facebook/etc every, say, hour instead of as often as your compulsivity compels you.

Set boundaries. Only use Twitter for ten minutes a day, Facebook for five, Instagram for two, and so on.

Seek purpose. This is the biggie, folks. The main reason we get so caught up in screen time. Why do we cruise Facebook late at night looking at what everyone else is (supposedly) doing? Why do we whip out our phones at the slightest hint of a lull in activity? Because something is missing, and we know it. We don’t always know what’s missing. We just know – often subconsciously – that something isn’t right and we aren’t comfortable with our situation. It could be that girl we haven’t called yet, that story we’ve been putting off writing, that bill we need to pay, that friend we need to call and catch up with, that dog we need to walk, that CV we need to update, that paper we need to start, that barbell we need to lift, that spouse we need to wine and dine like old times. It might be something entirely mundane, idealistic or unknown. Seek a purpose, higher, lower, humdrum, whatever. Be the person with stuff to post (but refrain from posting about it!).

Well, I hope I both alarmed and inspired you. This hyperconnectedness issue is serious business. These technologies aren’t going anywhere so we need to develop better relationships with them. Let’s hope that, together, we can do it.

(Please note that the recommendations to limit screen time do not apply to your consumption of Mark’s Daily Apple and Primal Blueprint-related electronic media. Compulsive, frequent, feverish checking-in is encouraged.)

What about you guys? How do you handle smartphone, Internet, and social networking usage in your lives?

Thanks for reading and Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. You’ve left out a most important point. Not paying attention to those around you. According to the news a couple of days ago, passengers on SF Muni failed to notice a man brandishing a gun repeatedly in the car. They were all too busy looking at their phones or tablets to look up. Finally, the perp shot and killed a young man as he exited the train.

    Gayle wrote on October 10th, 2013
  2. As we speak I am logged onto the internet leaving a comment on this forum about being logged onto the internet leaving comments on forums !

    MetalStorm wrote on October 10th, 2013
  3. very timely! i’m turning 40 this weekend and i booked myself a personal retreat in a small beach cabin with few (if any) people around, no screens, no electricity, no phone service, no internet and no heat other than a wood stove. 3 days…i cannot wait.

    melissa wrote on October 10th, 2013
  4. No mention of harmful EMF!

    Dr Josh Lamaro wrote on October 10th, 2013
  5. Software developer here. I sit in front of a screen 8 hours a day.
    But I set boundaries on what goes into my brain all day.

    I don’t read email at all most mornings. I treat my cell phone as a land line (ie I leave it at home). Not on Facebook or Twitter. I manage my online presence for HR-related searches of me with my own web domain and a mostly inactive LinkedIn account.
    The news I get is focused and comes mostly from RSS feeds that are not too active.
    I have a tablet, but use it for reading Kindle books on the train while commuting. The wi-fi is usually off.

    boo wrote on October 10th, 2013
  6. This is funny, I JUST made a blogpost myself about going offline for the whole week :D http://www.paleoowl.com/2013/10/09/disconnected-the-experiment/ Thanks for sharing this stuff, posts like this along with Primal Connection makes my life even better :)

    Nina wrote on October 11th, 2013
  7. Who’s seen the Wall-E film… We do need to be careful that we don’t end up like those ‘blob-people’ on the spaceship! They didn’t see it coming either, drinking their energy drinks and using technology to communicate to the people next to them!

    I know it’s only a cartoon but I have seen people in the same room texting only to find out they were texting each other!!!

    Dianne wrote on October 11th, 2013
    • I, too, think of those Wall-E people quite often when talking about the benefits of Primal living! As we Primal devotees strive to live more like “real” humans have existed successfully for millennia, it is indeed sobering to realize that many of our fellow humans are actually closer to the Wall-E people than they are to so-called ancestral humans.

      [I feel compelled to explain that I am on the site and reading these comments and making my first ever reply solely because I am at the side of my ailing (and currently sleeping) 86-year-old mother.]

      P.S. Fifty-nine years old; no Facebook; no smartphone. But now I’m a total Primal junkie!

      Naomi Norwood wrote on October 11th, 2013
  8. Great post as always! A teacher back in middle school or high school once used the term “future shock” to describe our relationship with technology: it is changing so fast that we can’t mentally keep up with it, or ever get a chance to become truly comfortable with it, so we are always in a state of mild shock. Our grandparents, in spite of all the innovations happening during their lives, still didn’t experience the rapid technological development we experience on a daily basis.

    I am trying to remind myself of what I did as a kid during my free time before smartphones and get back to that. Yeah, Gameboy was part of it. Now, I would hardly call it obsolete. It’s RETRO! Just like the classic Nintendo that we bust out at parties so we can take turns playing Mario.

    I agree with the comments that say it’s about how you use your tools.

    Deanna wrote on October 11th, 2013
  9. I bought a new smartphone (S4) recently then returned it after a week. Not only was it unnecessary to have, but I found my phone use increased and was developing an addicting habit for no reason at all. It was used for texts and calls with the internet being a small bonus. Seeing all the apps and costs as superfluous, I’m happy I returned it.

    Niel wrote on October 11th, 2013
  10. I know especially for me, the blue lights keep me up at night. Kindle is starting to solve my problem….

    Dr. Anthony Gustin wrote on October 11th, 2013
  11. Wake up call for me!! I knew I had an addiction when I met “FarmVille” (don’t laugh). I lived my life according to when the crops would be ready to harvest. I celebrated when Zynga figured out how we could harvest them on our smartphone (stop laughing). Zynga reeled us in and I was addicted. I had to go cold turkey and stay away from the farm. The separation was painful. In my mind I was disappointing my fellow farm friends, letting my crops shrivel to brown wisps of nothing. But proudly, I am two year, three months and six days clean (you can clap now :)

    So I am cured, right? Well, my latest favorite smartphone app is “Nextdoor” A handy little app that you can log into and all your real life — living in your physical neighborhood — can chat and share concerns. What is wrong with this picture? We are supposed to be going outside and meeting these people…not picking up our phone to chat with someone we wouldn’t recognize in a crowd!

    I need to reevaluate. I want my life back. I love my smart phone. I love my computer. I love facebook…okay, I only like that but they don’t give us a choice to ‘like” — but I remember having a life and talking to people. Talking to coworkers on breaks rather than going and spending time on my smart phone. If the current trend of personal electronics continues, we will not know how to socialize in fifty years. We won’t know how to start a conversation. Fall in love. Enjoy a moment. We need to learn how to balance the obvious awesome benefits of technology with the almost forgotten awesome benefits of living in the moment.

    Excuse me while I contemplate deleting my nextdoor app and perhaps taking my dog for a walk.

    Chris wrote on October 11th, 2013
    • I’ve heard that this latest “smart phone” generation is actually the most friendly and social of all previous decades. Go figure…

      Ara wrote on October 13th, 2013
  12. louis ck brilliant rant about smartphones
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HbYScltf1c

    pb wrote on October 11th, 2013
  13. Frankly I could care less about being connected. My time is more important to me than that. When I’m on the internet it’s about research I’m not looking to be entertained. That being said I don’t mind a little entertainment component to what I’m reading or watching, makes for a better read or watch. It’s the constant uselessness of the majority of most everything else that I find annoying (painful, disgusting, head shaking, etc.etc.etc.).That which causes so many others to be so caught up in their digital worlds, physically doing absolutely nothing, wasting away and yet feeling a sense of somehow being more complete or fulfilled because of their participation. Give me a freaking break haha. Close the laptop, turn off the phone, put down the controller. There is a something called life…check it out!!

    Rob wrote on October 12th, 2013
  14. I don’t care if people “like” me in real life, much less on Facebook…

    tkm wrote on October 12th, 2013
  15. I don’t use a smartphone or have a facebook account. Never have. Quite proud of it.

    The long-term effect of all this technology is that we are loosing our cranial capacity and instead carrying around our “think-boxes” in our twisted, clawed hands. We’re being systematically lobotomized by the tech industry, and paying dearly for it.

    Technology is a dead end. Connection to Nature is the only way forward for humanity at this point.

    Lisa Being wrote on October 12th, 2013
  16. It’s like a drug. Since before I started my website, I deleted my personal Facebook (well facebook actually only lets you “deactivate it”) over 4 years ago.

    Deleting my facebook was the greatest productivity and happiness hack I’ve ever discovered.

    Evan Brand wrote on October 12th, 2013
  17. One of the things that I do and my management consulting company supports is the concept of an email curfew, we call it Zmail and it was just reported on my Fast Company- http://www.fastcompany.com/3019655/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/should-your-company-practice-zmail-the-case-for-inbox-curf

    In addition I set my phone to go into suspend mode from 10pm to 6am, so that I don’t get any late night phone calls or text that may tempt me or interrupt my sleep. This has been working really well for me.

    Laura P. wrote on October 12th, 2013
  18. A topic we all want to know about so thanks for the read! However, I feel I should now shut down my laptop…

    Actually turning my home office into a standing desk setup has made me feel a lot better about being online during the day but evening tech time seems to have a lot less purpose so I’m cutting out smart phone use at night. It also causes a good few arguments in my household!

    Luke M-Davies wrote on October 13th, 2013
  19. Wait a minute here. How in the world can “73% of people” have smart phones when only 5% of the population owns a computer. This makes no sense.

    Livia wrote on October 13th, 2013
  20. My fiancé and I share a cellphone and use it almost exclusively to call home to speak to each other. It’s also handy to have for emergencies. So we aren’t experiencing any addiction problems with that. But I admit I find it hard to leave the games alone that come with our cable package or some I’ve found online. And even aimless surfing night after night is all too easy to do. I have now been online for almost two hours and our pet rabbit, who has had enough of being ignored, is stamping his foot and growling. Time to call it a night.

    Northern Mermaid wrote on October 13th, 2013
  21. This is a definite problem for me. Although, I run a blog so I often think it’s necessary for me to be hyper-connected (well…maybe not hyper). Right now I’m working to find a good balance between not being connected constantly but still being active enough on the internet to run a successful blog. It’s difficult.

    Alysia wrote on October 14th, 2013
  22. What a perfectly-timed post. I actually just found myself feeling the Facebook depression. I took your advice and removed the app from my phone. I have been thinking about the affects of technology lately and really needed to read this post.

    Thank you.

    Babs wrote on October 14th, 2013
  23. My Iphone has a do not disturb function that you can set on a timer. It does not give me any notifications between 10pm and 7am.

    Steve Kammerer wrote on October 14th, 2013
  24. شكرا

    شركات السياحة في طنطا wrote on December 25th, 2013

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