Text Neck Syndrome: Smartphones Hurting Our Necks and Posture

Article by Chris Price | 737 words

It is often thought that what we create to ease our burdens eventually become our crutches—as in, things we rely on so much that we can’t function without them. And now more than ever, it looks as if this saying could be taken in more than the figurative sense.

Caveat emptor should preface the logo on any new smartphone package. Caveat utilitor should title the LCD screen upon its first power-up. Let the buyer (and seller) beware. Be wary of what? Be wary of what is now called “text neck.”

The History of Handheld Accessibility

The thought of complete accessibility via a handheld “smart” device was introduced circa 1996 with the Nokia 9000 Communicator. This revolutionary gadget held the form of a laptop when opened and retained its telephone design when closed, as Medium.com explains. And as the grandfather of the modern smartphone, its groundbreaking release with e-mail, web browsing, fax, word processing and calling capabilities made it the Columbus of a handheld new world.

Nokia 9000 Communicator

Credit: Medium.com

This “new world,” though, bleeds with scathing irony in that the physical wear on its inhabitants shapes them in a way reminiscent of humankind’s past. Slouching over a screen too much makes us look more like the ancient people you see in those evolution pictures, the ones where the man gradually learns to stand up tall.

However, the limitations of the 90s Communicator naturally kept its owners from overindulgence. With only 8 MB of bloatware-laden memory and merely 2 MB of data for gut-wrenchingly sluggish web browsing, the gadget found itself more in pockets than in hands. But today, the opposite is true.

Good Habits Today are Bad Habits Tomorrow

In the 1930s and 40s, it wasn’t uncommon to stumble across colorful advertisements with doctors, dentists, animated camels, babies and even Santa Claus endorsing cigarettes for their life-prolonging, lung-preserving properties. However, after conducting further research and observing its long-term effects, the public’s otherwise lighthearted and positive view on smoking was reversed. Doctors campaigned ad nauseam to give the unhealthy habit of smoking the taboo status it retains to this day.

Two points of this anecdote should be taken into account: the delayed time it took for an unhealthy habit to be publicly acknowledged, as well as the presence of skeptics and lesser-known studies conducted ahead of their time.

It is unfortunate that the luxury of hindsight vision is not yet present for those studying the physical effects of smartphones on user health. The first iPhone, which is the face of the smartphone industry, was released less than a decade ago (2007), and its global surge is something less than half that time.

In the past few years, though, there has been some attention given to the negative effects of smartphone overindulgence. CNN released a feature piece on “smartphone slump” entitled “Your smartphone is a pain in the neck” a couple months ago. In it, the author referenced a recently published academic paper on posture, stress and the position of the head in the context of smartphone usage. And there are more publications here and there (such as the San Jose Mercury News) that are joining this trend, acknowledging Blackberry Thumb, Mouse Shoulder, Text Neck and other quirkily-named bodily afflictions induced by using technology too much.

Texting Neck Diagram

This diagram shows how tilting your head down to look at a screen places pressure on your neck and spine. (Credit: TheTimes.co.uk)

Apart from a few academic studies paired with common sense, there’s not much yet that can be said concerning how badly we can harm ourselves and our posture from a lifetime relationship with handheld technology.

Truly, comparing the negative effects of smartphone overindulgence to smoking might be a stretch, but both habits at one point shared the same quality of public acceptableness—at least for now. Perhaps, just as smoking created a generation prone to lung cancer, handheld devices will create a generation prone to horrible posture.

Like most trends, the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate, ignorant intensity. It is unlikely, with the dependence that technology today has placed on us, any warning would lead to some sort of cold turkey abandonment. I would recommend, though, amidst that love affair you may have with your phone, that you allot time and space apart from each other before you look back with pain and regret. Just as doctors have long recommended taking breaks from looking at screens for the sake of your eyesight, perhaps you should take breaks from mobile devices for the sake of your back, neck and overall posture.

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