7 Ways High-Tech Gadgets Could Be Hurting You
Sure, they make life easier, but could all this technology be harmful to your health? WebMD gets the experts to weigh in.
6. Risk of Life and Limb
Chatting on your cell phone makes you drive like you're drunk, says David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah and an expert on driver distraction. Using a driving simulator, he put people with a blood alcohol level of .08 behind the wheel, and then tested them sober but using a cell phone a few days later. "The person on the cell phone was every bit as impaired," Strayer tells WebMD. You're four times more likely to have an accident with the phone glued to your ear.
Hands-free phones and voice dialing don't seem to help. It's not so much fiddling with buttons that puts you at risk, but rather that the conversation itself engages parts of your brain that would be better focused on the road. Strayer says. "It's more of an impairment because the mind is not on the road than because the hand's aren't on the wheel," he says. Because the person at the other end of the phone isn't aware of driving conditions, you get pulled into a deeper conversation than you would with someone beside you.
If gabbing on the phone makes you four times more likely to have an accident, texting doubles your risk yet again, Strayer says. "Taking your mind off the road for even a second can be very hazardous," he says, yet reading and replying to a message tends to take a few seconds. Add to that the need to hold the device steady, and it's not surprising that you're eight times more likely to crash while texting.
7. Office-Related Asthma
Your sleek, high-tech office may be a source of indoor air pollution. Some models of laser printers shoot out invisible particles into the air as they chug away. These ultra-fine particles can lodge deep in your lungs. Not every printer is a health hazard. In one study of 62 printers, 40% tested emitted particles. But only 17 printers were high-particle emitters.
So why does technology have so many harmful effects on our bodies? It may be because while traditional tools evolved over eons, technology evolves more rapidly than our understanding of how we'll use it, says Barry Katz, professor in the industrial design and graduate program in design at Stanford University.
"It may have taken 10,000 years to evolve the form of a sewing needle, or 2,500 to evolve the form of the safety pin," he says. "That gives a lot of time to work out the kinks in the system."
But modern devices, from the mouse to the ear bud, were invented from scratch. "You know about the electronics inside, but you don't know how people are going to use it," Katz says. He promises that designers are continually fine-tuning our gadgets to make them more helpful and less harmful.
Until they're perfected, though, take extra care to make sure your gizmos don't put a kink in your health.