In this month’s blog post we look at the potential physical dangers that portables devices (cell phones and tablets) can cause to humans. This blog is not written to scare you into not using your portable device, but rather to help educate you on the potential hazards and how you can minimize the risk. Let’s take a look at some of these concerns and what we can do to minimize them.
Damage to your eyes.
I am getting older and know that with age comes problems with the eyes. I like to say I had the eyes of an eagle; now I have the eyes of a beagle. But I have to wonder if computers and portable devices didn’t speed up the process, and here is why.
The human eye is an incredible organ, capable of a wide variety of tasks. Unfortunately, portable devices are drastically reducing the amount of long-distance focusing we do, instead we lock our gaze a few inches away from our face and keep them there.
Also, the light given off by our devices, or blue light, can induce photoreceptor damage. It is important to consider the spectral output of LED-based light sources to minimize the danger that may be associated with blue light exposure.
How do you minimize this and take breaks from looking at these devices? WebMD mentions the 20-20-20 rule, that is to look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Read more here.
Speaking of blue light, many people have a hard time putting down their cell phones before bed. When your Twitter interactions are going crazy, taking one more look is hard to resist. Unfortunately, a number of studies have revealed that using LCD screens—especially close to your face—can upset your natural sleep cycle.
The blue light that they give off has been theorized to inhibit the production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Our eyes are accustomed to absorbing blue light from the sun in daylight hours, so when we get it at night it disrupts the circadian rhythms that spur us to rest at night and wake in the morning.
Luckily, portable device makers have caught on, which is why iPhone and Android devices now have blue light filters, while apps are adopting dark modes to turn your device into something a little more pleasing on the eyes. Many of these tools can even be scheduled in order to automatically change with the time of day. Here are links to some interesting articles on blue light and blue light filters.
You know cell phones are changing the world when they have medical ailments named after them. “Text Neck” has been springing up more and more in the last few years. Our human head is a heavy object, and our neck and spine are designed to keep it up at a certain angle. When we tilt our head down to look at our phone, it increases the pressure we put on our cervical spine as much as 60 pounds, which has been shown to increase upper back and neck pain.
One way to avoid this problem is to hold your device up so that you are not bending your head down to look at it, but this too can cause problems.
As we just mentioned holding your device can cause its own problems for you. The term “text claw” was coined to describe the cramping and soreness caused by too much mobile phone usage. Holding your fingers in the position necessary to keep your mobile steady while you tap and swipe can cause inflammation and tendon issues. Also, some devices have gotten larger and heavier which also adds to the problem of “text claw.”
Most vulnerable is the thumb, which large numbers of phone users employ for the majority of their typing. The thumb’s range of motion is fairly low, so it’s easy for it to get aggravated when it’s pushed outside its comfort zone. Typing with a stylus can remedy the issue.
I was coming out of a convenience store the other day and had a young man plow right into me because the young man had his head focused on his phone and was not looking at where he was walking. More and more people are looking at their portable devices while walking and are bumping into walls, falling down stairs, and stepping into traffic. It seems that people just can’t seem to walk down a street without doing something with their mobile device.
Experts say that when texting, you’re not as in control with the complex actions of walking. Basically, you are not paying attention to your surroundings and you do not have your eyes focused on the main task of watching where you are going.
Also, studies have shown that using a portable device while walking reduces the effectiveness of walking as exercise. The reason is that when using a portable device to text, read, or talk, the user walks significantly slower than if they walked without the device.
I have to make a confession: yes, I have texted or talked on the phone while driving, and yes, I’m very sorry I have. To put it simply, distracted driving is unsafe. Yes, you can multi-task when driving, but that means you will do neither task well. Doing another task while driving like looking at text messages, social media, or videos takes your focus away from driving.
Here are some facts to support this. Five seconds is the minimal amount of attention that a driver who texts takes away from the road. If traveling at 55 mph, this is equal to driving the length of a football field without looking at the road. Texting makes a crash up to 23 times more likely. According to the National Safety Council, cell phone use while driving leads to 6 million accidents per year. A University of Utah study reported that a teen driver who is using a cell phone has the same reaction time as a 70-year-old driver who isn’t using a cell phone. 64% of all vehicle accidents in the United States each year are caused from cell phone usage behind the wheel—that’s 1.6 million accidents.
I’m going to take my own advice and not use my portable device while driving…you should do the same.
Studies have shown that our brains are constantly expect the stimuli from our devices and can also lead to stress. Another study observed significantly elevated anxiety levels in subjects separated from their phones for an hour. In other words, you get addicted to using your device and constantly checking it and when you can’t use it, you become stressed.
Even when you’re not looking at your phone, it can still mess with your mind. A professor at Indiana University-Purdue University conducted a study on “phantom pocket vibration syndrome”—i.e. people thinking that their cell phone is vibrating to alert them even when it isn’t. In her survey, 89 percent of undergraduates reported thinking that their mobile was vibrating even when it wasn’t.
Here is a link to a good article on portable device stress and hallucinations, and what we can do to combat it.
What Can We Do?
Have no fear, all is not lost! As mentioned in the link above, try using your portable device a little bit less each day. Do not use it while walking or driving. Put your device down an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Give yourself breaks during the day to step away from your device. Find device holders to hold your device for you and at an angle that is good for your neck and posture. Talk to your friends and family in person and at meal time. Develop house rules such as no devices at dinner time and have a family meal.
Good luck, and stay safe out there!