Electronic technology is a huge part of many people’s lives. Good or evil or some combination of the two, tech is involved in many necessary things that we do for work, socialization, pursuing our passions etc. Let’s look at some of the effects of smartphones on human function.
The natural tendency is to hold the phone where it is easiest: at the height of the elbow or slightly higher, but almost never at eye level. In order to see the phone, we shift our eyes and face downward, folding the neck and upper back forward and down.
Forward head carriage places serious demands on the muscles of the neck and back. Our primate forebears and other mammalian ancestors had strong neck muscles which suspended the head in front of the body, but humans have evolved a different, upright posture. The bipedal posture is the design shift that makes human animals so incredibly capable, precisely because it frees the arms from weight bearing and moves the sensory centers away from low-level hazards.
The neck and back muscles are now best used to help balance the skull on top of the spine, and when balanced, the skull can move freely and easily in any direction. But with smartphone usage, we return to a primitive arrangement.
The muscles of the neck and back are not suited to constantly carry the 10+ pound weight of our heads horizontally forward like a cantilever. When we do this, our upper spine becomes stiff and unsensing, burdened with the work of maintaining this precarious position. In order to turn the head and eyes, additional effort must be made to shift the cantilevered weight.
As with a computer screen, in smartphone use, the eyes become fixed. But in this case they are fixed downward and the head is carried with them forward and down. Eventually, the tilting of the eyes and head forward and down creates a constant flexed position in the entire spine. Spinal flexion is tied neurologically to flexion throughout the body and a protective, sympathetic fight-or-flight response.
Yet our human qualities of uprightness and freedom in the head and neck are still there, within our reach at all times. Simple movements of the head and eyes, done slowly and with methodical attention can slowly restore balance, awareness, and calm to the upper spine. Restoring free movement in the eyes, face and upper spine improves spatial orientation and the ability to turn and change direction easily and without needing to prepare first.