Is technology making us sick?

In my view, technology should make our lives easier – that’s what I try to work for, that’s what this blog is about and that, in general, is what at least fundamental research is aimed at. But are we going about it the wrong way? Is technology really making our lives harder, rather than easier?

In a recent release, amednews.com reported that physicians are seeing more an more technology-related ailments, such as Blackberry Thumb, Cellphone Elbow, and Computer Vision Syndrome. They cite New York ophthalmologist Roy Chuck, MD, PhD saying he pointed to a 2009 Archives of Ophthalmology study that found the prevalence of myopia among people 12 to 54 was 25% in 1971-72 compared with 41.6% from a 1999-2004 study period. Although there may be other causes to this (such as myopia detection in the 1970s) there is a case to be made here.

Similarly, in 2008, Linda Stone wrote an article in the Huffington Post making the case of E-mail apnea. She called Dr. Margaret Chesney, at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and writes: “Research conducted by Chesney and NIH research scientist, Dr. David Anderson, demonstrated that breath holding contributes significantly to stress-related diseases. The body becomes acidic, the kidneys begin to re-absorb sodium, and as the oxygen ($O_2$), carbon dioxide ($CO_2$), and nitric oxide ($NO$) balance is undermined, our biochemistry is thrown off.“. She noticed that we generally do hold our breath as we read our E-mail, type on a blackberry, etc. Her research was hardly scientific (she didn’t check the breathing of a large population doing different things in a verifiable manner) but it is still an interesting point.

An another tack, in 2004, I-SIS, the Institute for Science in Society, reported about Mobile phones and brain damage and called mobile phones “the largest human biologic experiment”. This is still under active research today – and still makes the occasional headline.

One police officer, Andy Casavant of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, went a bit further and wrote and article calledTechnology could be the death of us all“, in which he wrote:

I believe technology has created its own set of security and safety issues for the street officer. Just consider the placement of this equipment in the vehicles. Many times it impedes the vision of the officer either by its placement or by the lights and or reflections coming off the monitor screens. There are constant streams of information coming cross the screen all the time which distracts the officer’s attention from driving and scanning their environment. We spend more time watching and typing on the computer than we do driving the patrol car. It’s my belief that there has been an increase in crashes which can be attributed to these issues.

He goes on to say that “that insidious machine called the computer pins us down and makes us impotent while we stare at it

on the other hand, technology also makes our lives easier – if not plainly possible. One of the most obvious ways that this is true is in the medical profession: as reported by OSM on Sept. 1, the iPhone has become a valuable medical tool though regulators aren’t ready for it yet and it can also be used to make a doc’s life miserable.

A relatively new organization, PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) explores how technology can be used to make life easier from a health perspective. and Cambridge has a journal on the subject: the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care.

So, I can really only conclude that it’s a mixed bag: technology can make us sick, but it can make us better too. That makes it more ambiguous than, say, chocolate – but probably not quite as good.

 Tweet