Stories about how technology can be bad for our health is not new, of course. But two articles in this particular genre caught my attention this week. The first is some HBR research showing that Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking (Even When It’s Silent and Facedown):
The mere presence of our smartphones is like the sound of our names or a crying baby — something that automatically exerts a gravitational pull on our attention. Resisting that pull takes a cognitive toll.
A bit more about that “gravitational pull”:
Research in cognitive psychology shows that humans learn to automatically pay attention to things that are habitually relevant to them, even when they are focused on a different task. For example, even if we are actively engaged in a conversation, we will turn our heads when someone says our name across the room. Similarly, parents automatically attend to the sight or sound of a baby’s cry.
In another article, Virginia Heffernan explores the question What Are Screens Doing to Our Eyes—And Our Ability to See?:
Having recently, in my forties, gotten reading glasses, I now find myself having to choose between reading and being, since I can’t read without them and I can’t see the world with them. The glasses date from a time when reading was much rarer a pastime than being; you’d grope for them to see a book, while relying on your naked eyes for driving, talking, walking.
There is no “solution” to this, but as someone who also has reading glasses, I do like her approach to make this weird feeling a little better:
When I pull away from the screen to stare into the middle distance for a spell, I take off my glasses. I try to find a tree. If I’m inside, I open a window; if I’m outside, I will even approach a tree. I don’t want mediation or glass. The trees are still strangers; I hardly know their names yet, but I’m testing myself on leaf shapes and shades of green. All I know so far is that trees are very unlike screens. They’re a prodigious interface. Very buggy. When my eyes settle after a minute or two, I—what’s that expression, “the scales fell from my eyes”? It’s almost, at times, like that.