Our Digital Posture may be Killing Us

While eating dinner at a restaurant this summer, a scene at a nearby table caught my attention.  There sat a family of five in deep devotion. Every head was bowed low and all eyes were cast on the floor.  When no one bothered to look up or even speak to the waitress who arrived to place their orders in front of them, I assumed this was a genuine profession of faith.  Yet after the waitress walked off and the food sat lifelessly waiting to be consumed, I had to laugh when each member of the group looked up, turned off his or her phone, and picked up a fork.

At this moment in time and space it is no doubt cliche to cast this scenario in a luddite light as yet another case of digital technology unraveling the fabric of society.  In fact, my original purpose in sharing this story was to point out the irony of the modern family that replaces a pre-dinner devotion to God with a sincere devotion to digital devices.  However, as I considered the various angles from which to interpret this event within the context of our digital revolution, an article in Lifehacker redirected my perspective to a more literal angle:  the angle of our spinal chord.  Seriously, have you ever considered the effects of technology on our spinal chords?

In  “How Sitting is Wrecking Your Body” Melanie Pinola presents a number of astounding statistics:

  • Sitting 6+ hours each day makes you 40 times more likely to die 15 years sooner than someone who sits 3 hours each day.  Even exercise will not change this stat.
  • The average American sits for 9.3 hours each day.  This is more time than we are asleep, and more time than ever before in human history.
  • While sitting increased 8% in the last two decades, obesity is now a reality for 1 in 3 Americans.

Certainly these statistics are the fruits of a digital world.  We only hunt and gather data today, and consequently a majority of work places demand computerized work where sitting for 8 hours is inevitable.  But we do not stop sitting after work.  The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recently revealed that:

“Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8 hours per day), accounting for about half of leisure time, on average, for those age 15 and over.”

Additionally we now spend increasing amounts of time reading the news, watching movies, playing games on our smartphones and checking for updates on Facebook (in 2011 users averaged over 400 minutes/month on Facebook) as Kenny Olmstead shows in graphics using data collected by the Pew Research Center.  This additional sitting, Pinola argues, is making a dangerous problem deadly.  Our digital posture is contributing to our own demise.

At this point, you might be wondering how this relates to the story of the family in the restaurant.  Do I imagine that these individuals were going to stand up to eat their dinner if they didn’t have phones on them?  No.  I only noticed how their phones demanded of them a certain sustained posture.  This is not in and of itself significant or dangerous since any of the activities we do on a daily basis demands a specific arrangement of our skeleton.  But as a BBC news piece, “A Sitting Guide to Standing Up” argues, the real danger lies in adopting one posture for a long time.

What are some solutions?   Pinola mentions a few that are worth considering if you a suffering from a sedentary lifestyle.

  • Break up sitting with bursts of walking.  Walking burns 3-5 times more calories than sitting.
  • Replace hours in front of the tv with hours outside walking or exercising.
  • Be conscious of your posture.  Even if you are on a computer you can keep the spinal chord upright or at 135 degrees, which takes pressure off your lower back.

If you’ve been to this site before you may notice that I’ve changed the header artwork of this blog to reflect the ironies of our age that is sometimes going “Backwards with Time.”  Clearly this depiction of human evolution really highlights our devolution into hunch-backed hackers.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, there is one thing nearly all modern Americans have in common: we sit all the time.  Computers are a part of life and they are not going anywhere.  While we can analyze the social, cultural and political impact of these technologies, we should be aware of their physical side effects.  The risk of heart disease and the mounting obesity rates in America are real problems, exacerbated when we allow digital technologies dictate poor posture.

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