How screens tend to mess us up…and what to do about it

You know, despite all of its comforts and leisure, first world living can pretty rough on us. The human body and brain has not evolved very much beyond what it has been for the last 50,000 years, regardless if the First Industrial Revolution occured 250 years ago, and the Third barely 50 years from today. We are in many ways still arguably cavemen, and suited to live as such regardless of our societal advancements. With that in mind, it is easy to appreciate that the technology we have developed to improve certain areas of our lives tends to come with a price in others.

And, one a big, blaring elephant in the room piece of modern technology that has had some of the most significant negative impacts on our comfort, mobility, and sense of well-being happens to be the exact thing that you are using right now to read this email.

Screens.

Desktops, laptops, tablets and the most impactful of them all…smart phones.

For every bit of convenience, creativity and connection they may give us, screen use, and in particular prolonged and intensive screen use seems to rob us of our ability to exist and move comfortably and freely in both our bodies and the world.

In fact, how often, how long and how intensive a person interacts with screens in their daily life is something that I will often see as a significant contributing factor for why chronic or reoccurring aches, pains or bodily problems just won’t seem to go away…or just keep coming back.

Why?

Well it seems that prolonged and intensive screen use tend to make us stiff, and in particular in our neck and torso, while also reducing our bodily awareness.

Said another way, the more you use screens in your daily life the tighter and clumsier you become in the rest of it.

To understand why screens tend to do this to us, you have to appreciate how we as a species seem to be designed to interact with the world.

By interact I mean sense.

As human beings we have five extero-senses.

Sight/Vision

Smell

Sound/Hearing

Taste

and last but not least…Touch.

These are the ways in which we perceive the outside world. We actually have more than just these five extero-senses (proprioception and interoception are just a couple, and pretty pivotal ones), but in terms of the way in which we sense the external world there seems to be one dominant sense for our species.

Vision.

As human beings we have the most parts of our brain dedicated to sensing and interpreting visual stimuli, far more than any other sense. We have an entire lobe of our brain dedicated solely to intepreting visual stimuli.

You know the saying that eyes are the windows to the soul? It turns out, that is true.

Eyes are literally an outgrowth of the brain. Yes, you read that correctly… your eyes are an anatomical extension of your brain.

How this impacts us is that our brains are constantly seeking and interpreting visual stimuli, and through that it is making continuous decisions about how to allow to effectively move, engage and anticipate what may be coming next within that environment.

So what does this have to do with screens? More specifically, screen use?

Well, when all you sense is what is directly in front of you, and all you use to interact with it is your eyes and hands at best…then that steadily becomes all you perceive of yourself, and even the world around you.

This is often known as tunnel vision…you need it in order to focus solely on this screen right now, and in order to achieve it your brain will automatically lock up your spine to keep your body from swaying. This is that tight neck, and tight torso thing…

Got to keep the camera steady right?

Alongside that, it is going to minimize distractions, so your sense of your body, your periphery, and the world around you just fades away. The result is you bump into things, you are startled easily…whole chunks of the day are lost in the grips of a glowing screen…

Eyes on the prize, you know?

And because we are a body and brain in a state of constant adaptation the longer you do it, the longer this postural and perceptual deficit sticks around. With that, it seems that the more intensive the activity is during that use, the more ingrained this tightness can become as well.

That said, screens and us all heavily using them in our daily life is not looking like it is going anywhere, anytime soon.

So what to do?

Well the best advice I have found to date is to simply be aware of the effects that prolonged screen time can have on us, and to break it up.

And the easiest way to break it up is to lift your gaze and view wide open spaces.

In fact, I encouraged you to do exactly that…right now.

Put the phone down, step away from the tablet or laptop…and look out and around the space you are in. If there is a window available, look out it, If you are lucky enough to be outside right now, soak it all in.

It does not have to last longer than 10 seconds at a time, or even simply a deep breath. Just literally doing this simple thing to break up prolonged or intensive screen use has a significant impact in reducing and reversing its negative effects.

That said, you really cannot stop at that alone and expect to have a comfortable and capable life in this world of screens every direction we look. You need to go for a walk.

Outside.

Everyday.

How long or how far is not as important as how often.

Again, how often is….Everyday.

Why?

Well, if you want to know not only why walking for even short distances everyday can have such a significant impact on reducing the effects of screen use then I recommend you watch the video below.

How screen use creates just as many problems as it solves…

If you have any questions about the above, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Regardless, I hope you find the above helpful, and I hope you are comfortable, able and well.