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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

"Overtechnologization" Can Be Harmful To Your Health
April 2nd, 2001

Technology can be wonderful. It can produce great results when we integrate it with our work environments. It places stunning power in our hands and can be an efficient tool to save us time. It renders many of us more productive.

That said, how much technology is enough? Or better yet, how much technology is too much? Artificial intelligence and silicon have their perks, but also their drawbacks. Sometimes, technology can create a state of dependency, and I am not even talking about addiction when I say this. It can affect our health in many ways, as well as our living habits, our work habits, and sometimes our mental health.

"Recently, there have been many people who think that too much technology is not good for our lives. They think that our minds and bodies are not healthy because there is too much technology. These people say that we are now lazy because we don't have to do anything ourselves. A lot of people don't read or exercise anymore. They just watch television [and spend time in front of the computer]," says Nobuhiko Okumura, in a research study about on communication and language education.

Indeed. Extensive use of technology can change our daily habits. Instead of going out to jog, walk or do any other physical activity, many couch potatoes or computer users will spend their day in front of a screen. The worst part of this? Such unhealthy routines are now becoming a way of life for younger people, even young children who end up doing this for the rest of their lives.

Adults also use technology beyond the computer and television. They use the car to go to the corner store, which might otherwise be a 15-minute walk. They pay for delivery to avoid going somewhere themselves, or to avoid the effort of carrying the merchandise they just bought. Europeans, early in the 20th century, walked or used a bike to go to work. They enjoyed an active life style. The early 21st century North American seems to do anything but that. Is this history, or will people rediscover the appeal of healthy daily habits?

Overuse of all kinds of technology killed a way of life that human beings were made for. "From a physical standpoint, it's simple: humans weren't meant to sit in the same position for extended periods. We were meant to move about in search of food, not to sit virtually motionless in one place in search for love, dirty pictures and stock prices," says Tim McDonald, an e-Commerce Times columnist in Can Technology Be a Health Hazard?

Ask any doctor, trainer or physical education specialist. The consequences of being idle - an unfortunate result of computer use - are disastrous on the human body when not corrected over the years. From body fat to clotting of blood vessels, lack of activity can ravage your metabolism. Another physical consequence of computer use is the repeated stress injury (RSI). Keeping your hands in position to use the mouse and keyboard for a long period, each and every day, is likely to cause pain, especially for the articulations. When your hands and wrists hurt for a couple of days, your body is giving you a signal about your abuse of the computer.

Too much technology can also alter the mind. My experience at MACWORLD Expo in New York in July 2000 was a bit of a trauma. I saw attendees carrying their portable, PDA, cell phone and occasionally even more at the same time! Some of these toys are very useful, but you sometimes have to ask yourself how much is enough. Take the PDA. Why couldn't a traditional planner do the job? Do you REALLY need a computer of that size to organize contacts and keep track of your timetable? Allow me to doubt it.

I have the impression that since technology can bring a productivity boost, too many folks allow themselves to depend on it to be productive. In short, replace their PDA by a traditional planner and they will feel lost. Imagine if their PDA is in for repair. Are they going to survive when it will be unavailable?

Dependence on technology has another drawback, a financial disadvantage. Remember the Year 2000 (Y2K) bug? Did your small business or company have to modernize its equipment for the January 1, 2000 rollover without a glitch? How much money did it cost to your employer? According to the Gartner Group in Bug money not wasted, insist Y2K experts, 600 billion American dollars were invested to solve the Year 2000 problem. Wasted or not, such a sum is huge if you consider that it solved a potentially huge problem related to dates and digits. I won't get into the fact that if businesses relied on the Mac instead of Windows that they wouldn't have had this problem in the first place.

When we depend so much on technology, programmers and analysts as well as tech firms hold us by the privates and can easily take advantage of the situation. Just think of your mechanic if you don't know squat about cars. It is easy for him to pull a quick one on you for a few extra bucks...

To put this into perspective, I must underline the distinction between using technology as a tool and adopting it as a way of live and letting it overturn the balance of power. Many business people realized that they want to take control of their trade again and put technology to their service, not the other way around. People need to do the same. Says Jane Healy, an educational psychologist, to Meg Mitchell of the International Data Group, "We want people who can think, create, reflect and imagine."

As I said, technology is great. I use a computer and a cell phone myself, and I would be a tad hypocritical if I was telling people to stop using their toys altogether. It would be a good idea, however, to remember that moderation is a healthy thing. Physical activity and balance in one's relations with technology can be valuable in turning technology into an instrument, not an end in itself.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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