Nutrient or Nuisance?


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What will the long-range effects of technology be on human physiology
and psychology, social norms and economic sustainability?

Technology, of course, plays a role in all major social, cultural and economic
shifts — including issues of health. It’s no secret that digital wizardry has
lured many of us into leading a more sedentary life than did our fathers and
grandfathers. Addictive gadgets invite us to sit, surf, watch and play for hours
at a time. We have to first exercise our will in order to be active, rather than
a passive and immobile consumer of media in all of its forms. Often, we have
to urge ourselves to walk or bike to the store, the school or the office—if the
choice is feasible. Even children must be urged to put down the Kindle or the
iPad and go outside to play.

According to recent data from The Neilsen Company, pre-teen children, ages
6-11, spend 28 hours a week watching TV, streaming movies or playing video
games. If one adds the use of portable devices, time spent texting, listening
to music, “sharing” on social media sites and so forth, the figure skyrockets
to more than 53 hours a week. Technology has given us comfort, pleasure,
mobility, knowledge—and a few problems.

What will the long-range effects of technology be on human physiology
and psychology, social norms and economic sustainability? The question is
difficult to answer given that technology advances and "disrupts" at an everquicker
pace, changing behaviors and social norms before we can stop to think
about it. Remember, we’ve only had the iPad for 5 years, the iPhone for 7, and
take a look around at how those devices have changed the way we work and
play. What might occur once wearable technology like the new Apple Watch
becomes the norm?

For nearly all of human history, our comfort and survival required constant
physical activity, but thanks to technology we can now shop, pay bills, work
and talk to family and friends without so much as standing up. All it takes is a
tap of the finger. This is equally true for most of the work that we do.
The good news is that some advances in technology may be working in our

In fact, there are over 10,000 consumer-oriented health apps available for
iPhone download and one can also make use of digital gadgets that encourage
physical activity. The Wii Fit balance board offers customized exercise routines
and Samsung’s S Health fitness tracker helps to monitor and manage exercise
levels, food intake and heart rate in order to improve fitness and health. And,
according to an article in the Business Insider, Flurry Analytics reported that
between December 2013 and January 2014, health and fitness apps grew 62%
in usage compared to apps overall that grew only 33%. Clearly, the ethos of
wellness is now part of the social milieu—and the marketplace.

Nonetheless, most of us spend most of our time indoors, sitting down; physical
activity has been essentially engineered out of work and daily life. According
to a report by the American Surgeon General, 60 percent of American adults
are not physically active on a regular basis and while many people embark
on vigorous exercise programs, most do not sustain participation. As for the
youngest generation in the current workforce, they are less active and more
obese than earlier generations. Today, we ask our bodies to do less, while
being presented with more food than anyone could have imagined 100 years
ago. The result is obesity.

What can we conclude? Primarily, that it is essential to monitor electronic
screen time and our use of technology. Step away from the computer, turn
off the television and leave the car parked in the driveway. Instead, walk the
dog, schedule a yoga class (and actually go) and set a timer when you do go
online. Then, get up from your desk, stretch and take a break. Do something
active, whether it’s walking around a farmers’ market, working in the garden
or strolling down the street to the nearest park.

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