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GUEST EDITORIAL: Physiology and the advent of the smartphone

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TNS

In his 2010 book “I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works,” the technology writer Nick Bilton relayed anecdotes about early 19th-century anxieties in Britain at the dawn of train travel. It was thought that “people would asphyxiate if carried at speeds of more than 20 mph” and reputable scientists believed that traveling at a certain speed “could actually make our bones fall apart.”

So far, that hasn’t happened.

While adjusting to the future is often alarming, as Bilton illustrated, humans find a way to cope.

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette drove that point home. Doctors have identified the condition of “text neck,” found most often in teenagers and young adults who stare down at their smartphones for two to four hours a day. An orthopedic surgeon quoted in the article advises people to simply “take a break from that thing.” If that proves unrealistic, there’s a Pilates class geared for teenagers, which includes a focus on overcoming “text neck.” The instructor noticed that four girls in a recent class “could not drop their heads in a relaxed position during the exercises” — a clear sign of TN.

It is beyond doubt that the proliferation of digital devices is changing the way people process information: smaller gulps from wider sources, less sustained attention.

When you can pry your hands from your own smartphone for a minute, go ahead and wring them over this decline in intellectual capacity.

But the endurance of the human species is testimony to its remarkable ability to adapt.

And there’s one constant: Each generation is horrified by the decadence of the one following.