The first homo sapiens — anatomically the same as their descendants that populate the earth today — evolved around 2,00,000 years ago. The first call on a cellphone was made in 1973. But technology, it seems, is giving evolution a run for its money. Recently published biomechanics research by two Australian scholars suggests that the extensive use of hand-held devices — smartphones, tablets, etc — is causing “horns” to grow in the skulls and necks of young people, among various other musculo-skeletal growths. Essentially, there appears to be a possibility, even a likelihood, that hunching over screens is ruining posture and in the developing frames of children and adolescents, this can cause permanent changes.
Those who see permanence in change argue that the science behind the panic is weak, that all technology since human beings first settled down has caused various stresses and changes in the body. So, while orthopaedists may be treating an increasing number of patients for “text thumbs”, why should this cause more panic than carpal tunnel syndrome? Or, they argue, should there be anxiety over keyboards and typewriters too? The reason for the seeming over-reaction to the physiological consequences of contemporary technology may lie in anxieties beyond just biology.
The true consequence of the personal computing revolution has been that it has turned human beings into cyborgs, the half-man half-machine that once belonged in science fiction. People do not remember phone numbers any more, nor birthdays. The compendium of human knowledge is not tucked away behind the Dewey Decimal System — just call on Siri. Even the burden of child-rearing is being shared by screens and games. The anxiety around horns and thumbs and stressed neck muscles is likely because the denial of these fundamental changes is becoming more difficult. It’s hard to ignore a teenager with horns.