Health & Tech: Technological Advancement & Human Health

Mankind has always sought out ways in which to improve. With the introduction of every new form of technology, there is someone seeking out a way to make it even better.  Over the past few decades, the many advancements in technology have completely changed the way in which we operate on a daily basis.  The main purpose of those advancements has been to make things easier and more accessible, and undoubtedly this is being accomplished on a daily basis.  While there is no way to argue against the countless benefits of this ease of accessibility, it does cause some to raise the following question.  Is it possible that we’ve made things too easy?

With the fast paced way in which our society operates as a whole, easy accessibility of information is extremely important.  In the past, it was common for a person to spend hours walking up and down the aisles of the local library, in search of information for an important research paper.  I can recall meeting with a group of students from different areas at a centralized local library. We had all spent hours researching our given topics for a group assignment on rap & hip hop in the Latin American community. Though we all would rather have been outside playing ball or some other outside game, we had to commit that time to utilizing the resources available.

With the continuous updates of information on the internet, those long nights spent buried in books have been transformed into hours divided between web searches for key concepts and being sidetracked by Twitter and Facebook updates.  There are constant improvements being made that allow us to sit in front of a computer for hours retrieving more information than we could ever use, while being entertained in nearly every form imaginable.  With so much information at our fingertips, why would we ever need to do any actual work?  Whether it’s browsing the web, or playing a video game, we typically don’t have to move from one place to do much of anything. Unfortunately, this has led to a level of inactivity that has created a type of societal laziness that is astounding.

As Danilea Warner, James Teufel, Peter Holtgrave and Stephen Brown point out in their article “Active Generations: An Intergenerational Approach to Preventing Childhood Obesity, 65% of Americans are overweight and over 30% are obese.” That represents an increase of more than double the percentage from 1980. They also point out that “among those ages 6 to 11, the obesity rates have more than tripled.”  When presented with such astounding numbers, many would wonder what could cause such an increase.  Unfortunately, this is a direct byproduct of advancing technology.  Over the past decade alone, time spent in front of a screen of some form has dramatically increased while time spent participating in physical activity has decreased.  The article also states that “in a 2007 survey, over 35% of students reported spending at least three hours in front of a television screen on school days.” It is pretty easy to make the cross comparison to the increase in video game sales over the same time period. After all, how often do you see children choosing to play outside rather than playing the newest XBOX or Playstation game?

Unfortunately, you can make this same connection with adults as well.  In the past, a vast majority of careers involved high levels of physical labor.  While many may present valid arguments that the effects of many types of physical or manual labor careers have had on human health, the effects of the increase in computer or technology based jobs should be noted as well.  In Active Generations, the authors state that “over 64% of people recently surveyed reported that they sit down at a computer for work.  Over 80% of those people reported that utilizing a computer is the only means by which they can actually complete their work.” Also, while some may assume that many people who work in jobs that require regular computer usage would avoid computers on their personal time, the exact opposite is occurring.

Aside from the documented physical effects associated with some levels of technological advancement, there are a number of social effects as well.  If you were to ask someone how many friends they have, would you assume that three hundred sixty is a legitimate answer?  What if I asked if you had ever had an argument with someone because they felt that a text message you sent had negative emotional connotations? In the article “Intelligence In The Internet Age: The Emergence and Evolution of Open Source Intelligence,” authors Min Ju Kang and Michael Glassman, introduce the concept of Open Source Intelligence, which is in fact a change in the method of information communication in the human mind. This article states that fluid intelligence, or the intelligence that only involves thinking and reasoning quickly, could possibly “transcend cultural intelligence.”  The article states that this fluid intelligence will essentially replace crystallized intelligence, which is the ability to utilize experience, knowledge and skills to make decisions.  It also states that fluid intelligence will almost complete remove cultural intelligence, or a person’s ability to function in culturally diverse situations.   However, they note that “the dimishment of crystallized intelligence, and especially cultural intelligence, also presents a number of important problems in maintenance of cohesive social cooperatives.” So what does that actually mean?

The impact of the change in which information is presented, processed and communicated can already be seen on multiple levels.  With the majority of communication currently occurring over some form of data transmission, from text message to tweet, the ability of people to hold substantial conversations with coherent dialogue has diminished.  While many pride themselves on having a mastery of the human language and being able to communicate with other people of any intellectual stature, the triviality of interpersonal human conversation becomes more and more evident on a daily basis.  I can recall sitting down with a potential job candidate, and reviewing their resume.  The resume was extremely well drafted and their qualifications were clearly defined.  However, as we began the conversation about his work and life experiences, I noticed his responses were completely emotionless and he began speaking in “text speak.”  While I attempted to get past the first few “omg’s” and “idk’s”, I began developing a major concern that there could be a problem for that candidate to have face to face conversations with our customer base. Unfortunately, this is an observation that I’ve made many times while I was a part of or just and observer of a number of conversations.  Many people lose their ability to read or relay emotion simply because it has become reserved for emoticons on the computer or in text messages.  While rapid communication has indeed been made easier by the increase in cell phone and computer technology, the desire by many to communicate faster and with even less effort, such as conducting full conversations via acronyms, has impacted us on an overall social level as well.  Even primary networking has been reduced to occurring in social internet networks that requires little to no personal interaction whatsoever.

While being aware of the necessity of technological advancement in our everyday lives, how do compensate for the negative impacts on our health and interpersonal communication skills?  While research does indeed acknowledge the continued benefits of our growing technological resources, it also shows that there is a need for an increase in awareness.  With the fact that so much has become available to us on a digital level, it will require a collective consciousness for us to not lose or diminish the levels of health and intelligence that can only come with activity and experience.  Studies such as those conducted by the authors of the Active Generations article are indeed a beginning.  However, it will take much more focus on continued human development to keep us from being surpassed and potentially controlled by the technology that we have created.

**Werner D., Teufel J., Holtgrave P., Brown S. “Active Generations: An Intergenerational    Approach to Preventing Childhood Obesity”. Journal Of School Health. (2012): 380-386.

**Glassman M., Kang Min Ju. “Intelligence In The Internet Age. The Emergence and Evolution of    Open Source Intelligence.” Computers and Human Behavior.(2012): 673-682.

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