Piper OGorman gazes longingly into the screen with some artistic elements done by Grace Parks.
Piper O’Gorman gazes longingly into the screen with some artistic elements done by Grace Parks.
Bowen Maki

Put it down!

People must be conscious of the effects screens have on our health.

Tapping, scrolling, typing, and swiping. The products of the digital era have infiltrated almost every second of our lives. School environments have transitioned to the contemporary computer over the practically pre-historic pen and paper while home environments have seen the smartphone become the ultimate form of entertainment and me-time turn into screen time.

We have learned to use computers in almost every way that appeals to us, but this one-way relationship we thought we once knew has come to an end. As we learn more about computers, we learn more about how they affect us in return. These effects are surpassing their digital environment and are becoming physiological. Now, it has become our job to draw the line and determine how much time online is too much.

According to the Mayo Clinic, tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is an affliction caused by the “overuse of the muscles and tendons in the elbow.” Additionally, tennis elbow is not an exclusive diagnosis for players of the sport. In fact, most who receive the diagnosis don’t play tennis.

Instead, tennis elbow diagnoses tend to be for those whose work involves repetitive movement including typing on a keyboard or clicking a mouse. Excessive computer usage, particularly in the work environment, causes lateral epicondylitis so frequently it has received its own — albeit less used — nickname, “computer elbow.” 

As we use our devices more frequently, this repetitive movement becomes more risky. According to Northwell Health, there are ways to prevent computer elbow while still using the device, such as correct posture. But to avoid the risk, it’s best to cut away at our excess computer usage. Spending less time on our devices makes us less likely to develop the condition, as it is created by repetition. Reduce repetition, reduce risk.

Computer elbow is dangerous, however, it is a relatively extreme example of the physiological effects of excessive computer use. Some afflictions are much more common, well-known, and impactful.

Many are guilty of getting into bed just to scroll through social media — one last video, a few more swipes, and soon enough, it’s 3 a.m. without an ounce of sleep. According to an article from the National Sleep Foundation, about 58% of Americans find themselves on their devices within an hour of going to bed. 

Amy Flemming, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote an article explaining how screen time affects us. “This screen time disrupts the circadian rhythm — the human 24-hour sleep cycle — due to the blue light released by electronic devices such as computers, smartphones, or TVs. Our eyes pick up the most natural blue light during daylight hours, so our brains have learned to associate it with being awake. So, the artificial blue light released by our devices prevents the release of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. 

Because of the nature of our devices, it’s not uncommon to lose sleep to spend a little bit more time online. Losing sleep can deteriorate our mental health, and worsen memory, mood, and focus. However, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that sleep deprivation is linked to “heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, [and] obesity,” meaning that it can worsen our physical health as well. Sleep deprivation can be detrimental to our health in many ways; by being on our devices right before bed, we are simply choosing to allow it.

The issues of sleep deprivation or tennis elbow are not unheard of. If anything, they’re overlooked. As minor as they may seem, the effects of long-term computer usage are not to be underestimated. To claim that computers are inherently bad for us would be completely false; however, to pretend that we use them in the healthiest way possible would only worsen the issues that do exist.

In a world where so much is done through computers, it is our responsibility to put our screens away. Time after time, we are reminded just how much time we spend on our devices, yet we do very little about it. It takes a conscious effort to overcome our addiction to computers, but it’s an effort we should make.  So, maybe today’s the day we should do a little bit on the old pen and paper, and give the computers, or ourselves, a rest.