When Technology Makes You Dumb, Lazy and Frail

Excuse my choice of words. But it’s true 🙂

For the past two and a half years I have been driving a car with GPS, 360-degree proximity sensor (so the car makes a maddening noise when I’m close to hitting anything …). Thirty months of driving in Singapore, and I still don’t know how to drive around without turning on the GPS. The proximity sensor has numbed my natural instinct for proximity with other objects … I’m fully counting on this maddening beeping sound to determine whether or not I am keeping a safe distance.  This is a BIG regress from my previous ability to drive around in Jakarta without a GPS – I simply looked at the map and memorized the routing. I used to be able to instinctively know when I should stop backing up by just looking at the car next to me. I used to be able to determine how fast a car / motorcycle is approaching and whether or not I’d be able to steal a turn in that mili-second.

And now? Last month I braved myself to drive again in Jakarta. I have lost my bearings and my ability to detect motorcycles roaming around me. A couple of times my wheel almost got ditched into the waste water canal (got / selokan, they call it in Indonesian) while turning. Several times cars and motorcycles honked violently at me for hitting the break all of a sudden, or turning without warning, because I almost missed turns or wasn’t aware that the car / motorcycle slightly on my side or front is stopping.

I used to memorize everyone’s birthday, address and phone number. Now I only remember my immediate family members’. Some people are worse off. They may not even remember their own phone number, address and post code 🙂

And then there’s home entertainment … remote controls make us too lazy to walk to the TV stand to turn on any game consoles, DVD player, CD player, or the TV. Everything is just one click away … but we end up with back pain or headache because we sit on the sofa for too long without moving around. On top of that, we could end up being obese because of lack of exercise and too much snacking on the sofa.

In addition, there’s “food technology” … frozen vegetables. Frozen pizza. Frozen pies. Frozen chicken nuggets. Instant soup. Frozen lasagna. Instant marinades and sauces. While I am not anti frozen food, I am now mindful of all the chemicals that these frozen and instant food may contain (MSG in particular), and the germs that may grow on food that you thaw and re-freeze. The only frozen food I buy is preservative-free fresh food that is instantly sealed and frozen, and the only instant food I buy is those without MSG or preservatives.

And how can we talk about this without talking about telecommunication gadgets? The smartphones (iPhone, Blackberry, O2 and the like) and personal computers (or laptop). We can answer our e-mails 24/7. We can do “management by SMS” (which I used to do regularly). You can divorce your wife upon sending a text message (what???? This really happens though!!!). It comes  complete with calendar, currency exchange rates, measurement converters, dictionaries, games, etc. etc. How many times have we heard grieves from parents that their children are engrossed in their games and have no connection with reality, or prefer to “communicate” with their online friends rather than having face-to-face interaction with their real friends? For this reason, we limit our son’s computer and game console use to only weekends, where we stop him every 60-90 minutes to do other stuff (shower, biking, lunch, grocery shopping, swim, etc.) to make sure he moves around and stays alert to what’s happening around him.

I use an iPhone and loving it. But I also realize that playing games on that tiny screen will give me a neck and shoulder pain over time. Turning on my 3G means that I will constantly be checking my e-mails. Turning my sound on loudly means that I will occasionally disturb my husband’s sleep (and my own) because some people do text and e-mail me at odd hours. And that listening to my iTunes song collection has made me missed my bus or train stops. For this reason, I don’t bring my earphones (I never use earphones anymore. Full stop).  I consciously do not turn on any alarm for my calendar – I don’t want to be reminded by an alarm that today is my son’s birthday or my wedding anniversary – that’s one of the many important things that I want to remember without any help.

At 31 years old, I have suffered from neck and shoulder pain from bad posture in front of the computer and now I have to constantly remind myself to sit upright, maintain my posture, and exercise my shoulder and neck muscles to prevent similar stiffness and pain. My shoulder and neck pain have costed me thousands or dollar to pay my physiotherapists, orthopaedics and neurologists, plus many sick leave because of migraine and inability to move – something that could have been easily avoided had I disciplined myself to limit my technology use. I have had lower back pain because of accumulated slouching on the sofa. And I have had my fair share of food poisoning because of rotten instant food (those instant sauces and marinades that are way over their expiry dates).

Should we shun these technologies and live like the Amish? Your choice. As for my family, we choose to keep most of these technologies, but we make a concerted effort to limit the use of it to what is necessary. This means not turning on the GPS unless we’re driving to a new place. It means limiting our game and TV use to one hour at a time, with time-outs to go to the toilet, stretch, or do other things during commercial breaks. It means making an effort to remember our credit card numbers, FIN number, phone numbers of those we would call the most often, and other details that are just too easy to forget if we rely on technology. It means buying ergonomic chairs for our study desks and only use the computer and any writing work there, even though that means isolation from the TV when we’re doing work from home (my oh my … qué horror! 😀 ). This means turning our phone on silent when we’re sleeping. I’ve even gone a step further … turn my phone silent most of the time, so that I would only pick it up when it is convenient – no more running to my phone when my shower or cooking isn’t finished! After all, if that call is really that important, the person will call back, or can leave me a text message.

Just don’t allow technology makes you dumb, lazy and frail … I was halfway there, and got a wake up call from all my spinal problems.


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