Sunday, June 24, 2018

Immobile Phone

The cell phone, like cable television,  encourages sloth and immobility.

I was turning on my cell phone the other day and it struck me that in order to turn on the phone I had to push the button on the side of the case for five seconds, making me virtually immobile until it turns on.  I was frozen in position for five seconds, just to turn the damn thing on!

And then it struck me that almost all use of the smart phone requires the user to sit in a static position and move their muscles as little as possible, other than the fingers necessary to manipulate the device.  Taking a photo, for example, requires a serious effort in stillness, for several seconds - which is why tourist places are clogged with people taking "selfies" - the instantaneous "snapshot" of years gone by has been replaced by the ten-minute selfie.

The smartphone is thus the antithesis of exercise.  It is the opposite of the Fitbit.  When you use the cell phone, you stop moving entirely, and become static.

It is like cable television, where people sit for hours on a couch staring at the the screen and not moving the single muscle.  Unfortunately, this form of behavior is very bad for your health.

Like it or not, we are trapped in flawed human bodies, bodies that have, over the millennia, evolved to perform manual functions repetitively. We were born to be walkers and workers and not intended to sit for long periods of time doing nothing.

With the coming of industrial society, this all changed. Early in the history of mankind, some people, instead of hunting or gathering or farming, sat down and performed various manual tasks while sitting in one position - making pots, sewing clothes, cooking food.  We started to move from one mode of operation to another.  But even those early sitters had to get up to get work done.  They may have spent hours sewing a buckskin jacket, but they also had to gather firewood, hunt for food, gather nuts and berries and medicinal herbs.  There was at least some exercise involved.

But over time, as we have specialized, we no longer perform even these modest tasks.  Early office workers had to walk to work, even if they sat for hours a day.  And even then, if you wanted to send a memo to the 8th floor, you had to leave your desk and walk there - no click of a button as today.  Watch old movies from the 1930's and 1940's depicting office workers in Manhattan, and see how many of them are mobile most of the time.

Today, we commute to work not by foot, but by car - if we commute at all.  Many today, including myself (until recently) merely shuffle down the hall to a computer terminal in our home.  No need to even shave or get dressed to go to work!  Ten hours later, you've got a lot done, but are still in your pajamas.  This is not right.

Unfortunately the evolution of our body has not kept up with the changes in our lifestyle and culture.  Our body still demands to be exercised and moved, in order to function properly.  Thus, like it or not, we have to exercise our flawed bodies in order to keep them operating at peak efficiency or even partial efficiency - or even to keep them running at all. Once we stopped moving, we fossilize and the body deteriorates quickly.

And sadly, you see the effect of this, daily on the streets.  Go to Walmart and see people who have ballooned to 300 lbs or more, riding little electric carts - taking away what little exercise they have left.  Their legs look like giant sausages, with no real change in definition from the ankle upward.  Diabetes, heart disease, and amputation lie in their future.

So much of modern technology was designed to prevent us from actually using our bodies. The automobile, one of the most widespread and most important inventions of the 20th century, eliminated the need for people to walk long distances. Instead, we slouch behind the wheel, while our blood pressure peaks, and we exert very little effort.  We are assisted by power steering, power brakes, and even power windows and door locks.  Every tiny task and our lives has been replaced with some sort of electronic motor or actuator.

Pull into a rest stop sometime and watch carefully the professional long-distance truck drivers as they emerge from big rigs.  Most of them can barely walk.  It is a temporary thing, in some instances.  After sitting for an hour to behind the wheel of a vehicle, your legs seem to not function anymore and it takes about 10 or 20 minutes before you could learn to walk again.  But for others, a lifetime behind the wheel of a big rig slowly destroys their health, and walking becomes a painful chore. It is almost painful to watch these long haul truckers try to walk to the restroom and back.

Perhaps someday, our bodies will evolve to this new mode of operation - this mode of sloth. We may end up looking like Jabba the Hutt, our legs diminishing into a pseudo-pod as we no longer need to have mobility in any way shape or form.

But until that far-off time, we are stuck with the bodies we have evolved into - bodies intended to be used for manual labor, work, and walking. And once we stop walking and working, and stop using our hands and legs, they atrophy and our health deteriorates. Quickly.

A whole host of inventions have been created to alleviate us of the "burden" of manual labor, or even the tiniest of efforts.  But the mobile phone is arguably the worst of these, as it requires you to be perfectly still for minutes or even hours at a time.  You see this all over the place - people standing and sitting like statues, staring into tiny screens.  The mobile phone has become the immobile phone.

Maybe today is a good day for a hike - or a kayak.