Ever heard of a “text thumb” or a “Blackberry-neck”? Doctors report that more and more people are complaining about pain in their backs, shoulders, arms and hands. The ongoing surge of handheld technology, like smart phones, laptops, video games and music players, is leading to a new wave of aches and pains. “The latest technology is great, but it is also a literal pain in the neck,” reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
Here I am typing these lines on a laptop, but I cannot say that I am surprised by the findings of this report. All day you see people around you who frantically work their small handheld machines in more often uncomfortable positions. Nowadays digital devices dictate most lives.
The story in the Chronicle made me think about a book I read recently. In The Tyranny of E-mail, the author John Freeman makes the obvious point that most of us are too busy sending emails, tweeting or updating our Facebook pages that we never really meet people. We hardly make real connections, not with each other, not with nature around us. And I’m sure that’s not good for our souls. We need to belong. We need real friends.
There is a lot to be said in favor of Freeman’s suggestion to substantially cut back on our use of computers and digital communication in favor of real meetings, real conversations or real walks: Picking up the phone instead of sending another email, sending a real post card with a stamp instead of a digital one. Don’t you like receiving a handwritten letter amidst the invoices and direct mail that clutters your mailbox nowadays?
After reading Freeman’s book I was criticizing my own habits and contemplating a fresh start of the year with a more disciplined use of digital media. Right at the same time Haiti was hit with a devastating earthquake. I followed the terrible news on my computer as I’m sure most of us did. At first there were no communications with the largely destroyed Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. And then soldiers were able to re-establish the cell phone network. Suddenly from under the rubble survivors could turn on their phones and let the world know where they were, using the very systems like Twitter that I had started to think we could very well do without.
Lives were saved because of modern digital media. Sights like Haiti.com based on innovative software especially designed for similar purposes in Kenya began to provide the essential connections that real life could no longer provide. The stories brought tears to my eyes and made me, once more, see that there is really no simple good and bad as it comes to the good things of the past and the modern innovations of today. Digital communication and handheld devices are not bad as such. It is our challenge to embrace them in such a way that we honor the good things of the past. I’m sure that that would cure quite a few “text thumbs” and “Blackberry necks.”