When’s the last time you played a game on your phone, tablet, or laptop? Or the last time you realized two hours just disappeared as you chased down more and more information about cute kittens, the best way to cook a lobster, the origin of swear words, and the latest fashion trends in Zimbabwe? If you’re like me and many others, it’s very easy to get lost in playtime on your electronic devices. What does that extended play time do to your body?
What if I asked you to sit like this for 2 hours staring at the floor?
Would you expect that to be particularly comfortable after, say, 10 minutes? How about after 20 minutes? How would you feel after 2 hours of sitting in that position?
You probably don’t expect that you’d feel very good sitting like that for 2 hours. Your back, shoulder, and neck muscles would start to ache. Your butt muscles would whine as you crushed the life and blood out of them. Your feet and hands might fall asleep as you choke off blood flow. You’d want to get up after about 10 minutes.
But there’s a way to make this position much more bearable. You’ll easily be able to last 10-20 minutes in this position if you try sitting like this!
Now, it gets much more comfortable, doesn’t it? Think of how many minutes and hours you can (and have!) killed slumped into a chair playing Words with Friends or just going through your regular digital haunts. Your phone and the siren song of the internet can keep your mind so preoccupied with mental stimulation that you don’t even notice how uncomfortable the position is until at least 10 or 20 minutes have passed. By that point, you’ve probably gotten some muscles a little irritated, but maybe not too bad. You can stand up, stretch out a bit, and you’ll be okay.
Now, let’s see if you can go the full 2 hours without noticing how uncomfortable a position you’re in. Let’s use the advanced slouch sitting position:
A laptop (or a tablet like the iPad) can provide endless hours of mental stimulation, and you know you can easily lose a good hour or two or four without ever noticing how long you’ve been reclined into the couch or hunched over the kitchen counter. With limitless distraction available at your finger tips in form of Plants vs. Zombies or Luminosity, you can easily kill 2 hours in a position that you would ordinarily not be able to tolerate for 10 minutes. While your brain may love this kind of playtime on a daily basis, your body will not.
By allowing ourselves to get distracted by the endless interesting tidbits on the internet, we are training our bodies to slouch and slump and hardwiring all the extra problems that come with that. Poor posture should be expected if we’re spending long periods of time in this position on a daily basis, and all the problems that come with poor posture will — unfortunately — come right along too. That means we end up with dysfunctional muscles from head to toe. Muscles get stretched too long, compressed too short, atrophied from being crushed, and overly trained by holding the same position all the time.
One solution I’ve found is to limit the amount of time I allow myself to play on the internet in bad positions. If I am in a good ergonomic setup, I’ll allow myself longer uninterrupted stretches of internet time, but if I’m slouched and slumped in a doctor’s waiting room or sitting at the airport, I prefer to walk around, take in my surroundings, and let my body get a little exercise. As an added bonus, it gives my brain a little time to reconnect to the real brick and mortar world. That may not seem all that interesting, but it can be like a breath of fresh air for your brain.
So two experiments to try on yourself some time: 1) Sit slouched with nothing to distract you, then add in a phone or computer and see just how much longer you’re able to slouch! 2) For one full week limit the amount of time you spend on the computer or on your phone during non work hours. As soon as you get home, put yourself on a digital moratorium. Write down what you notice for both experiments and share your observations in the comments section below!