In a recent study by San Francisco State University 12 college students were observed while composing text-messages. All of them showed signs of increased heart rate, respiration, skin conductance and electrical activity in their muscles.

Not only did 83 % report hand and neck pain and holding their breath during texting, also most of them were not even aware of any of this in the moment while operating their cellphone.

If that is true for texting, imagine what happens to people constantly awash in the streams of Social Media and email; Reading, replying, tagging, commenting…

Brains For Breakfast

For many kids growing up today those kinds of behavior and the symptoms that come with them are considered normal. And although parents sometimes object, they often are in no position to prevent their offspring from it if they can’t demonstrate an alternative, themselves.

After all, our kids learned it from us, didn’t they?

Zapping channels on the TV turned into rapid-viewing of random YouTube videos…

Absently flipping through magazines became rapid mousewheeling through texts without reading them…

There is a growing need for alternative approaches to (new) media that include but go beyond mere speculations about privacy and copyrights.

Again: If such a simple and common task as writing text messages on our mobile phone proves to be a health-hazard, according to the study quoted above, what will happen to us after years and years of working with email, Social Media, etc?

Some people like to believe that all these changes in our biology will miraculously transform into super-human capacities and lead us into a glorious age of cyborg-like omnitopence.

But it’s hard to see just how holding your breath and being nervous will do the trick, isn’t it?

Money, Madness and The Mind

If you’re just using your phone or computer for fun, that’s one thing. But for most of us, we need to work with these devices for our daily jobs. It’s not much of a choice, really.

And besides sitting in an office in front of a screen from 9 to 5, which is bad enough, there is another situation which is both more exciting and more dangerous in terms of health and peace of mind.

I’m talking about a situation in which a person realizes the possbilities to make a living online while not being tethered to any kind of place or timezone. You could get a new client in New York, discuss the finer points of the assignment on a WiFi-enabled flight to Samoa, only to start the real work somewhere in a holiday bungalow in the Alps. It’s pretty awesome, alright.

This person could be a freelance webdesigner, an online teacher, etc.

The freelancer is his own boss. And that’s both the benefit and the problem.

The benefits I’ve already mentioned. Freedom from time and place. Ability to work from anywhere.

But the problem is one of severe over-use and over-reliance on technology.

In a 9-5 job, there will come a time when you turn off the screen. Your work for the day is done.

When you work for yourself, you might not ever turn off the screen if you don’t see any results!

Sidenote: Many people think that being your own boss makes you lazy, but often it’s the opposite: people are a lot harder on themselves than any boss in the world!

Basic survival instincts and a certain potion provide that certain kick in the rear: They won’t sleep until they don’t get that new lead. They won’t eat for fear of losing clients. They become statistics-junkies. And being free from a physical location they are now carrying their private prisons on their backs.

I realized this problem early on when I started working online.

Especially at the beginning there is this stinging sense that you have to get results fast, or else you are going to starve.

In fact, the opposite is the case: It’s pushing yourself too hard and spending too much unproductive time on-screen that will ruin you. Not the lack of opportunities. Although not sleeping, not eating and a racing heart due to too much cofee will eventually prevent you from even seeing the opportunities!

This is why it’s so important to take regular time-outs from the screen and regenerate your health.

Three Quick Ways To Slow Down

Digital Sabbaticals can help, but there’s a danger of going into a binge-consumption mode after a period of media-abstinence.

Here’s three quick things that can be done every day and that always work:

  • Reading a book. Preferably fiction as to being pulled into a story, lengthening the exposure to the printed word. Being online means being accustomed to a constant hum of information, so going cold turkey and just “switching off” is tough. Reading a book you can continue taking in information while your biology can rest. Compare your breath or heart-rate while reading a book or something on-screen. Compare strain in the eyes. Backpain, etc.
  • Travelling on Foot. This is just Werner Herzogish for “taking a walk”. Main thing: It works. Walking balances the brain hemispheres and helps to regulate breathing and heart-rate. (no matter how you call it)
  • Doing house-work. Unpopular but highly effective. After a long stretch of working on-screen there’s nothing better than doing the dishes or mopping the floor. Why? Working with the body is a great way to therapize a tech-ridden biology. Especially working with water. Also, I find that it has a great effect on creative thinking, producing those heureka moments that, as you might know, never appear while sitting in front of a screen and just waiting for them.

If you want to find out more about all of this, I also recommend reading the first book I published here on Learn Out Live:

A Mindful Guide to Online Living is all about the awesomenessness of dropping a day-job which never felt fulfilling and making your passion your occupation while learning to keep tabs on tech-related health issues.

In many ways, this volume contains the bedrock of my daily work (and life) online. This is why it comes in many formats from PDF to Kindle, and – what many people seem to enjoy – as audiobook:

Click here to check out a free preview!

But, hey – this was a rather long article. Maybe it’s a good point to take a time out, now?

I’ll do some “travelling on foot” now and will report back to you in a while.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

img: CC by