It's an undeniable fact of modern life: our cell phones are a part of us. If you're the type that panics when you realize you've left your phone at home or in the car and are going to have to get through a few hours without it, you're definitely not alone. But those few hours might just be good for you, and it might do you even more good to forget it more often. While the science is still out on just how bad our cell phones can be for some aspects of our health, we have discovered some pretty negative downsides:
It's safe to say no one likes germs, and if you're an outright germaphobe, you might want to listen extra closely to this one. Cell phones have about 10 times as many germs as the average toilet seat, and if that doesn't make you cringe, nothing will. According to a microbiologist from the University of Arizona, Charles Gerba, the problem with phones is that not only do we carry them with us all the time and everywhere — including into the toilet — but we pass them around to other people for a germ-swapping show of our photos and videos. That's where the danger really comes in, as we're generally not made sick by our own phone germs — we're made sick by other people's phone germs.
Depleting Our Memory
Our increasing reliance on our phones — and other technology — is slowly but surely impacting something called our transactive memory. The idea basically says when we have sources of knowledge right at our fingertips, we're less likely to make the effort to actually commit things to memory. Think of how many times you've used the Google Maps app on your phone to find your way from Point A to Point B. Could you find your way again, without the app's help this time? Probably not, because research has shown that we've become so reliant on GPS technology that we're losing our ability to navigate on our own.
Technology with screens is still relatively new enough that we're not quite sure just what kind of long-term damage spending most of our day looking at screens might cause, but according to a 2015 study from The Vision Council, about two out of every three people report suffering from eye strain after spending a long amount of time staring at screens. There's even a name for it: digital eye strain, or computer vision syndrome. Typically, it's characterized by blurred vision or dry eyes, but there might be more to it than that. Your cell phone screen is putting off something called HEV light, and that's the kind of light that's been linked to the highest possibility of being able to damage our tissues. That goes for our eyes, too, and while we haven't been exposed to our cell phone screens for long enough to know whether or not this is a danger, it certainly might be a risk.
If you lean forward into the position you're in when you're looking at your phone, take note of the position of your head and neck, along with how far from upright you're bending forward. Notice the pulling you feel in the muscles around your neck, upper back, and shoulders. We're all built to move that way, sure, but sit like that for a couple hours and you're going to feel some long-term aches and pains. According to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, a New York spinal surgeon, that position puts an added 60 pounds of pressure on the spine. Held upright, our heads weigh between 10 and 12 pounds. It's when you started leaning forward — and staying like that — that the added pressure builds up and can cause all kinds of problems in your spine and muscles.
If you hold your phone so your thumb is doing most of the work texting, clicking, and swiping, you could be setting yourself up for some serious pain. British cell provider O2 surveyed a wide range of regular phone users, and found that two out of every five respondents reported thumb pain linked to cell phone use. Almost half wished they had faster thumbs, and that even led to the development of "thumbell" exercises designed to help build up and maintain the health of our phone thumbs. One happens when the tendons in your thumb are impacted by the repeated motion and position of your grip, and it's often painful to straighten. In severe cases, it might become impossible to straighten your thumb at all without things like cortisone shots or even surgery. It's also possible to develop arthritis in your thumb, and while that's not curable, it can be treated to at least get rid of some of the pain.