A Slow Spiritual and Physical Death?

A new study is out today about the effects of spending a lot of time surging the web and just hanging out in front of screens.  It's pretty alarming:

The latest findings, published this week in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, indicate that the amount of leisure time spent sitting in front of a screen can have such an overwhelming, seemingly irreparable impact on one’s health that physical activity doesn’t produce much benefit.

The study followed 4,512 middle-aged Scottish men for a little more than four years on average. It found that those who said they spent two or more leisure hours a day sitting in front of a screen were at double the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac event compared with those who watched less. Those who spent four or more hours of recreational time in front of a screen were 50 percent more likely to die of any cause. It didn’t matter whether the men were physically active for several hours a week — exercise didn’t mitigate the risk associated with the high amount of sedentary screen time.

I've wondered about this.  When we lived in Hong Kong we felt overly stimulated constantly. The noise, the crowds, the constant rush.  It felt unusually stressful, which was strange for us, because we both have always loved big cities.  Then there was a study that came out (which I wrote about at here) that showed that the human brain in urban environments gets overloaded by negative stimuli.  That the brain is constantly hearing the sound of cars honking, people rushing to trains, jack-hammers, and other sounds that tell the brain--"you can't relax.  You are in a place of work and urgency."  The study then showed that people living in country environments where you could actually hear birds chirping, or the sound of running water, or the sounds of winds hitting the trees were constantly having their brains inundated with soothing, relaxing stimuli.

We first sensed this on a trip to New Zealand. We didn't name it as such---but, for lack of a better way of putting it, our brains felt different.  Our bodies felt different.  Now here in Germany--especially when we walk---we feel that same relaxation.  The point of all of this, is we underestimate how much our brains need subtle, positive, and soothing stimuli.

The invention of Facebook and phones with email and internet have jarred me.  Facebook I really don't like. It feels like one step too much (sorry Facebook fans which is everyone).  And cell phones with email--while incredibly convenient--make me want to scan the news and think about work.

We (like you) have to spend a lot of time at a computer.  And then, like the article suggests, on break time or after work, I scan the news on the internet, catch up on personal emails, or stay glued to some kind of computer.

I've wondered about the effect this has on me.  Constantly scanning news stories which are negative.  My eyes sore from too much screen time.  How can this be healthy?

Recently I downloaded the ESV Bible onto my phone.  Yes, sometimes technology is Extremely convenient.  It's so convenient and comforting to jump write into Proverbs or Psalms in just two seconds.  And a soothing Christian song can be carried with you everywhere you go.  Not to mention how technology has opened up Evangelism.  But still, when I started making Sunday a no work day and on occasion Saturday too---I felt better.  I then experimented with making it a no computer day too---and that felt even better.

I wonder about the effects of wireless networks in our homes.  The cell phone studies (which are increasing dramatically) continue to show that holding up a cell phone to your head increases chances of tumors.  They have been around long enough now for people to detect these things in the studies.

I just wonder if we human beings are wired for this kind of thing--no pun intended.

I know, I know....they said the same thing about the telegraph and the telephone.  There were concerns about television too (which actually has proven to be helpful but also damaging).  But something about all of this seems extreme.  Maybe it's just that we are the first generation.  For these texting teenagers they don't know anything different.  But once again, I think of how most of human history has consisted of people moving slowly, telling stories, and living in real communities. That is not our world anymore.

Yes, technology helps us connect.  You can see a parent on your computer screen, stay in touch, or even have a website.  I get that.  But I also wonder how much we need walks.  How much we need silence.  How much we need disconnection, so that our real connections are more profound. It's fine for those who can disconnect and keep balance.  But it's getting more difficult to do that even for those that do want balance.

When we moved here almost everything had to be done online.  Not "you can go online", but you must go online to register, to make your payment, to receive your payment, to get the forms,  to sign the forms etc. etc.  It's a virtual world.

Just thinking out loud---on the internet....beamed around the world.....to who knows how many people.

Confusing times these are.