Watch Out – the Net is Changing Your Body (7/5/12)
Using A Technology that Changes You
The universe is a sea of information. Your body is an information processing unit.
The Internet and how you use it is changing your body – right now. Though some changes are conscious, most do not reach conscious awareness.
But change is happening fast. If you want to control what’s happening to you, it’s time to get going.
Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows” is a book that describes some of the way the Net changes your brain. They include how you pay attention; how you think; multitasking; how you communicate; growth of neural pathways; your ability to reason analytically.
Now consider the rest of your body the brain is connected to.
The Net changes that too. Most examples of how that happens are not yet known. Here are a few that are:
1. Sitting. Sedentary life is a risk factor for death. Sit for more than six hours a day – at leisure – particularly after work - and people die faster. In women, the rates of death go up 37% after more than six hours sitting.
How does that happen? It seems glucose metabolism changes, making us look pre-diabetic. More clots may form, just as in sardine canned airplane travelers.
We know the Net can turn people into mollusks. Sit at your monitor at work, or at your videogame player by night, and folks don’t move much.
Yet the human body is built to move. People who don’t move tend to get bigger, slower, fatter. In a physically obsessed society, they also look less attractive.
Your hunter-gatherer body is a walking machine. It’s built to stroll. March. Stand. Pace.
Use your body the way it’s built and it works better.
2. Posture. Slumping in front of a computer monitor is one thing, But do you think texting while driving or twisting down to look at your cellphone is great for your back and muscles?
Guess again. The Net is already improving the economic lot of physical therapists, masseurs, chiropractors, and chair companies – and sadly increasing the pain of osteoarthritis.
3. The short-circuiting of necessary rest.
Bodies regenerate in order to stay alive. A lot of human information processing – including learning – takes place while you sleep.
Cell phones too often become enemies of rest.
People think, joke, imagine, and read about sex – a lot. But many have a far more intimate relationship with their cell phone than their spouse, partner, or lover.
How often do you talk to your bedpartner in the middle of the night? Over half of people now claim they check email and texts in bed.
And night-time texting and emailing does more than disrupt necessary, life saving sleep. It causes changes in the structure of sleep – including how much deep sleep and REM you get.
The bright light of phones and pads knocks out melatonin production. Will that change cancer rates? Some researchers think so. We know shiftworkers appear to have more tumors.
And intermittent bright light at night fouls up the biological clocks that time your life. That will change your daytime performance; your sense of energy; your alertness; your ability to learn; your risk of heart disease.
And how big you look in the mirror. Sleep less, weigh more.
4. Driving and texting teenagers.
I read in “The Week” yesterday that 58% of teenagers text and drive.
Why should we care? So what if truck drivers who text have 23 times the expected rate of accidents? I’m a better driver than those professionals, aren’t I?
Here’s a few reasons why you should care:
A. Letting kids (and adults) text during driving will lead to more car wrecks; more deaths; more head injuries; and more physically disabled bodies.
B. Texting drivers make the roads increasingly unsafe for everybody. That makes everything about driving and walking more stressful and scary. Stressed out bodies get sicker and bigger.
C. Allowing texting while driving – or just not enforcing the laws- convinces people it’s “OKAY”. Teenagers can easily come to see their cars as play tools and toys. Why pay attention to the highway when there’s a new text that your best friend just kissed the assistant captain of the football team?
D. If we can do whatever we want - even when it dramatically increases our chance of hurting ourselves and others – we decrease social ties and cohesion. We decline as a community.
Holding Back the Waves
Nuclear science led to drugs that find and kill cancers and supply vast amounts of electricity. It also created the H bomb, Chernobyl and Fukushima.
How you use a technology changes you.
The Net will be an immense boon to furthering knowledge and education. It can bring people together, help spark revolutions.
It will also change how you think and move. And what you look like.
The human body is an information system that regenerates to survive. And thrive.
The Net is another large information system. Use it in ways that fit the way your body is built and it will help you.
Use it poorly and you may be harmed.
How? It’s too early to know just how varied the effects of Net will be.
Information systems interact through vast waves and cascades. With the Net we’ve just seen the first ripples.
Not the future tsunamis.
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