Faster fingers are making us weaker

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For the emergent generation of adolescents and pre-adolescents, at least in developed economies, constant high-speed internet access and online networking have become the very air they breathe. A new study, however, has some cautionary advice.

The study, published in Acta Paediatrica, has renewed concerns about how digital life has led children off the playground and into the computer room… permanently. The study concludes that the average 10-year-old today is far weaker physically than his counterpart just a decade ago. His arm strength has fallen by 26%, he can do 27% less sit-ups, and he is less likely to be able to hold his weight hanging from a bar.

Although the study found that Body Mass Index (BMI) had remained constant, BMI is notorious for not factoring in the composition of muscle and fat ratios in its results. According to Dr Gavin Sandercock, a fitness expert at Essex University, a constant BMI is all well and good but the results are still “worrying from a health point of view” because they show that “pound for pound, [children are] weaker and probably carrying more fat,” he told The Guardian.

For adults, the negative health effects associated with an increasingly digital-based lifestyle have been well documented. Inactivity, a bent or bowed posture, and perpetual screen-staring are taking a toll on desk-bound employees, ranging from short-term memory problems (and possible links to early dementia) to increased heart-health and muscular complications. And just when you thought your office space was the epitome of a modern sanitary workhouse, consider that microbiologists have tended to find more harmful bacteria on a typical computer keyboard than on a toilet seat.

So although the internet has wrought enormous changes over how we live and move through the world, these changes are not all to our advantage. Sure, we’ve expanded the reach of global connectivity and made enormous strides in making technology work for us, but we’re hard up when it comes to our physical state.

I’m reminded of the kind of population caricatures in Pixar’s WALL-E, where the future of civilisation is a flashy pile-up of pudgy clones lying flaccid on remote-controlled walkers – people whose thirst for constant entertainment value is matched only by their conscious ignorance of anything falling outside the area of a standard television screen. It’s the kind of caricature that should bother us deeply because it speaks to a persistent tendency to passively embrace the sorts of lifestyles that technology affords us.

We have become a society that exists almost solely through social media. Our lives revolve around Facebook updates, Twitter feeds and the latest YouTube has to offer in entertainment. When not in front of a computer screen, we are furiously tapping away on smartphones or tablet devices, taking our social media existence in our pockets everywhere we go.

As far as the logic goes, if the digital age has affected the current working generation so deeply, how much more will it affect those for whom the current iteration of technology practice is all they’ve ever known? It’s a question that’s slowly being answered by the kinds of studies quoted above. I’m switching off now and going outside.

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