Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Ha! That is, like, so 1990s!
Sure, some still get this painful condition, and people are still afflicted with other 1990s-era troubles like Internet and gaming addiction, not to mention tech support and cell phone rage. But since the turn of the millennium, our obsessive use of new technology has given us brand new syndromes and injuries.
Here is the roster of the computer and gadget-related ailments that have emerged since the year 2000:
We all carry cell phones, and often set them on “vibrate.” We get so used to the vibration — and to responding to it — that we’re starting to feel our phones vibrate even when they’re not. You feel something. You reach for it. And… nothing! It’s the cell phone equivalent of the “phantom limb” felt by amputees.
Sales of laptops now outstrip desktops. They’re cheaper and better than ever. But there’s a price to pay. Hunching for hours on end over our laptops is turning us into what the BBC calls “slouch potatoes,” igniting an “epidemic of musculoskeletal problems.” A huge percentage of chronic laptop users are starting to experience joint pain, nerve damage and back strain.
Although Research In Motion was founded in the 1980s, and BlackBerry pagers were popular during the 1990s, the devices became super addictive with larger screens, bigger and better keyboards, phone functionality and more connected application.
CrackBerry addicts feel a constant anxiety that someone, somewhere, has sent them an e-mail. And they must! Check! Immediately!
If you have a teenager, then you know what I’m talking about. A huge but unknown percentage of teenagers sleep with their phones in or near the bed, and answer it when friends call or — more likely — text them at any hour of the night. Exposure to cell phone radiation 24 hours a day is one concern. Insomnia and disrupted sleep is another.
The human eye is optimized for constantly changing focusing on objects near and far. But when we look at our computer or cell phone screens, the distance tends to be relatively fixed. Over time, a peculiar and new kind of eye strain sets in, which can lead to headaches, eye pain, dry eyes, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and the temporary inability to focus.
Oh, man. Linkin Park sounds so good on my iPod. I think I’ll turn it up just a little louder… More people are listening to iPods for longer hours per day at higher volumes. The long-term effect of this constant loud music on hearing is unknown, but probably not good.
Most CrackBerry addicts (see above) bang out e-mail and messages with their thumbs, often at a feverishly high pace. The thumb was designed to rotate and move in different directions. But typing messages on a handheld device repeats the same motion, thousands of times in rapid succession. This constant and unnatural thumb action is causing a new kind of repetitive stress injury, leading in extreme cases to paralysis and pain — even arthritis.
The Nintendo Wii gaming system has ushered in an entirely new malady, first called “Wii Elbow,” now referred to as “Wiiitis” — as it affects more than just elbows. Unlike other gaming systems, like Xbox and PlayStation, which typically affect the fingers and thumbs through the overuse of game controllers, Wii players swing arms, jump around and engage in whole-body movements — but even these are repetitive, involving the same motion over and over.
The biggest culprit is the popular Wii Sports, a suite of sports games including tennis, baseball, bowling, golf, and boxing that all involve repetitive movements.
Poorly manufactured laptop batteries by Japan’s Sony Corp. tend to short-circuit and burst into flames. First Dell batteries spectacularly caught fire in cases captured on camera. Dell, Apple, Lenovo, Fujitsu and Gateway laptop owners were urged by those companies to turn in their Sony batteries for replacement units. Then, on May 24, a Toshiba laptop with batteries made by Sony caught fire. Overall, some 16 Sony notebook batteries were reported as catching fire, with two people reported with burns.
A similar phenomenon is happening worldwide with cell phone batteries — usually cheap counterfeit batteries made by disreputable manufacturers. The batteries are fake, but the burns are real.
Listening to an iPod can damage your hearing — especially when it’s struck by lightning. Colorado 17-year-old Jason Bunch was listening to his iPod while mowing the lawn last summer when the gadget was struck by a bolt of lightning. The current traveled up the ear bud wires, fried his face and ears and lit his shirt on fire. Although he’s still alive, his hearing was damaged. And he’ll probably “think different” for awhile.
The general cure for all these maladies is the same: We need to unplug once in a while. It’s a good idea to designate one day of the week when you don’t turn on or use any computer, gaming system or gadget. Stand up and get away from your computer at least every hour or two. Always avoid doing the same motion or sitting in the same position for hours on end.
If you have a teenager, take away his or her cell phone battery at night, and give it back in the morning. Don’t let them take their iPod to school, or wear listen to music all day.
Computers and gadgets are great, but crippling pain is not. These new syndromes and injuries require new habits. Unplug!