An exclusive extract to unravel your smartphone, How to be online and also be happy.
Accepting that your phone is hurting your physical body is the easiest part. It’s not hard to imagine, really, between the relentless discoveries that our bodies are becoming more and more deformed, literally, under the pressure of our screen time. But taking that information and applying it to new habits tends to seem, for some reason, more or less impossible.
No matter how concise or shocking the infographic is in the article, we still fail to make holding our phones with both hands and at eye level seem anything but utterly absurd. Think of this as your official wake-up call to do something once and for all.
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In 2014, Dr. Kenneth K Hansraj, head of the spine surgery department at New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, conducted a study it showed that when we tilt our heads to look at our phones, they become a heavier strain on our necks. The more we tilt our necks towards our knees, the more weight our neck has to support. If your upright head weighs five kilograms, when tilted fifteen degrees forward it is more like twelve, which is your head plus three bricks.
When your neck is tilted forty-five degrees down, your head might as well weigh twenty-two pounds, or your head plus two bowling balls. If we spend three and a half hours a day on our phones, that’s a full day a week that we’re putting pressure on our necks and backs. Almost two months a year.
The pretty much global habit of tilting our heads forward, day in and day out, until we get a permanent injury is what they now call the text neck. It causes neck pain, shoulder pain, back pain, headache. Stiffness, tightness and more leaning forward posture.
But the neck of the text – and the back of the text and the thumb of the text – aren’t the only ailments we suffer from thanks to our devices. We also live dry eyes (en masse), sore eyes and blurred vision. Nerve damage, muscle damage, compression or herniated disc, headache, early arthritis, numbness, depression, loss of lung capacity and possibly worse. After all, we’ve only had smartphones for fifteen years.
Me? Three years ago, I woke up and couldn’t move. Unable to sit up or even turn my head on the pillow while lying down, I was frozen. Something was wrong behind my back. I was lying there, kind of a plank involuntarily for a moment, my anxiety skyrocketing.
By 10 a.m. I had thawed enough to text someone, and by 11 a.m. enough to break free and break free like Michelle Pfeiffer in What is below. Then in the shower, put on some clothes and went to work in an Uber, crumpled up in the backseat like an old receipt.
I was basically feeling fine until lunch, when my neck seized up again, so I had been waddling out of work for a date. In the office of a myotherapist whom I had never met before, I was told firmly: “You have to use your phone, a lot less”.
It seemed absurd that I, a rather lively twenty-eight-year-old, a pretty decent person, a person with dreams and desires, would end up being unable to own an iPhone and watch it tremendously. But I decided to listen to it anyway.
After my date I started to notice little things about the way I was living my life. I noticed that I usually held my phone near my knees or at an angle so that my head was always twisting to meet it. I noticed that it was normal for me to stay in bed with my laptop on my stomach, my chin resting on my chest. I also noticed that it hurt. (Has it always been like this?)
I held my phone too far from my face, too close, too tilted, too bright, too dim. I would crush my arm holding the phone under me on the couch on my side, reading forty-two Twitter threads as I cut the blood from my hand with my body weight.
I had tiny cramps between my thumb and pinky when scrolling through apps, and a gash in my palm that the corner of my phone made after a session. A sore shoulder, headache, sore eyes, and I noticed how long it takes to fall asleep at night.
I started to think “Why did I buy this big phone instead of the regular phone?” And “Do I always frown my shoulders like this when scrolling?” And ‘What’s wrong with me?’ After a little while of attention, I also started noticing tiny spasms in my lower back that didn’t look new. I had probably never picked it up before.
Then tingling along the back of my right arm, down my elbow and forearm, and in the right side of my hand. Pain in the upper and middle part of my back. A kind of tightness in the right side of my neck. Soon it was impossible to ignore how painfully awkward this object was, and yet… we were there. Best friends, inseparable. Crazy in love, you might even say.
Those aches and pains and mutations were the way the body said, “Enough, idiot.” You haven’t figured it out for yourself yet, so here it is: undeniable proof. This thing has to go. I won’t lie to you; I never intended to part with my phone because of it. But I wasn’t quite sure I could change anything either, not even the worst habits.
For a few weeks after the date, I continued to use my phone as I always have. Why? Because it was fun! And everyone was doing it! Even when my arm tingled or my neck ached, I didn’t do the exercises or even hang up the phone.
I thought ‘Maybe this will be fine on its own’. And I might never have done anything different without the shiatsu masseuse I met one rainy weekday morning who asked me, nonchalantly, at the start of a session: “So, you broke. the back when? “. I was humbled enough to finally make some changes.
Very slowly, I forced myself to try the habits recommended by doctors, therapists and Instagram gurus: holding your phone with both hands, holding it straight against your face, and taking breaks to spin your neck and arms. at regular intervals. Stretch out, close my eyes, turn my phone off completely, and charge it in a remote room at night.
These new habits have slipped and fallen by the wayside all the time, and still do. In fact, there have been times I’ve caught myself on the phone, contorted on the couch while half-watching TV and gritting my teeth, writing a passage for that same book. About the insidious nature of the reckless use of the device.
But more and more, these habits are becoming a part of me and who I really am. I choose to do them because I care about myself and am afraid of becoming a giant mollusk. (I sometimes have to remember it out loud). And I keep doing them because I now see the relationship between exercise and better quality of life.
So between using the phone and using the computer, and as often as I may be disturbed (which is more and more all the time), I stretch, I move, I adjust to new angles. When I notice a pain in my palm, a prick in my little finger, or pain in my shoulder, I know it’s time to get up. Put the phone down and shut down the computer. Move over and try to use my body in a different way.
Stretching, exercises and machine breaks will really make the difference between becoming a pretzel and not becoming a pretzel somewhere down the line (no, I don’t know when). Find ways to incorporate these new habits into your life just like you would anything else, like waxing, sit-ups, trimming your nails.
Make them part of your daily or weekly routine until they’re not just an extra step, but something you can’t imagine living without. The good news is that stretches and movements are okay, unlike most things that are good for your future, feel instantly gratifying.
Ways to get out of the sleep scroll
- Move. Do something with your body. Stay away from your devices. Hang your head between your ankles or stretch your arms skyward. Go around your head clockwise and counterclockwise. Move all the limbs you can. Pump the blood and let your body is feeling something.
- Make noise. We can forget how quiet we are when scrolling, searching, and playing, how even our laughter is mostly silent, just barely noticeable sniffles of air. Make noise for a change! Sing along to the music you love, call a friend and talk loudly, or just say things to your pet, plants, or whatever. And try to do it without making it into content.
- Use that beautiful brain. Take a quiz or a test, watch an educational YouTube tutorial or a mini-doco. Do something that actually requires your attention, but not a lot of your hands. You don’t even have to leave your phone or computer, just break the monotony.
- Listen. Stop and sit or stand still. Close your eyes and pay attention to the sounds and movements around you. Sink into the cushion of your sofa or patch of grass and take a moment to pay attention to the world around you.
- Be social in the real world. Go see another person. Sit across from them and listen to them talk. Buy them a coffee. Tell them your thoughts. Ask how they feel. Let the unbridled goodness of the IRL human connection reach you.
This is an edited excerpt from How to be online and also be happy by Issy Beech, published by Hardie Grant Books, RRP $ 19.99, available in stores nationwide.