danger to society

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 January, 2008, 12:00am

At my Wi-fi cafe-cum-office, everyone - even the resident surfer dude - looks 75. As they hunch over their laptop computers, they all display the appalling question-mark posture.

I try to avoid falling prey to what I call the Quasimodo syndrome by pushing my head back into my shoulders as if it has been bolted into position. Carrying my laptop around in my backpack increases the ache. As does the irresistible decadence of running my business from bed, which is not nearly as exciting as it sounds.

Seeing and feeling the ill effects generated by using laptops set me thinking about all the other maladies our electronics-dominated life brings about. For a start, there's the inertia; laptop users burn just 100 calories an hour, according to OmniNerd.

On the positive side, unlike when watching television, consuming calories is out - or inadvisable. I speak with the zeal of a convert capable of destroying a keyboard with mayonnaise.

If you use the keyboard and mouse too heavily, you could have a tingling sensation in your fingers, strained tendons and sore shoulders. This is all the more likely if you operate laptops at home and at work; remember they are not ergonomically designed for sustained use.

This is principally because a laptop's keys are cramped. Worse, most users cannot touch-type. They use the hunt-and-peck technique, which increases pressure on the hand. Try enlisting the help of a digital typing program (typingsoft.com/all_typing_tutors.htm) or do away with the keyboard via dictation software such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking. On the downside, if you use the voice-dictation program in public, everyone will think you are nuts.

Whatever path you take, don't forget to spread a cushion or an empty backpack across your thighs because laptops can reach internal operating temperatures of more than 70 degrees Celsius. Balancing your laptop on your thighs increases the temperature of the scrotum (if you have one), which may reduce sperm count.

If you fear your eyesight is in danger, there's little to suggest that's the case, just heaps of paranoia embodied by a Yahoo thread in which more than one source suggests prolonged screen exposure can blind you. If computing really exacted such a toll, half the developed world would need a white stick.

True, if you still operate a cathode-ray-tube monster monitor, you may wind up feeling like a sunstroke victim. But if you are wedded to liquid-crystal display, you should not suffer at all.

I often wonder how much my social skills have been eroded by e-mail and instant messaging. Pity 'digital natives' weaned on silent electronic communication. There must be some exceptionally tongue-tied 13-year-olds around.

And in case all this is not worrisome enough, note the study by Carnegie Mellon University, in the US, that found internet use promotes small but statistically significant increases in misery and loneliness, coupled with a decline in overall psychological well-being.

So this year, let us all log off a little and get out more.