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I have a very low opinion of high tech and our health

As I have noted, I often have a low opinion of high technology and its overall impact on our lives and health. I know that some experts will say this fear is overblown and today’s technologies have made us more connected than ever before. It is a point made by Terri R. Kurtzberg, an associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers University in a recent post on The Conversation.

Kurtzberg points out how technology allows colleagues to work together from afar, friends to keep in touch without restraint and grandparents to touch base with grandkids; it’s just a matter of finding that ever-elusive balance as to how and when we use our technological devices.

It is also admitted that interacting via screens is markedly different from face-to-face interactions. This distance and anonymity is where the danger lurks. Multiple studies show that people lie more, are more negative and are less cooperative when they use digital means of communicating. This clearly can have a toll on the mental health of those who come under attack.

It also creates an overall shallowness of engagement people have with those around them — enhanced by the fact that the average American touches their smartphone some 2,600 times a day. It creates a sea of people around us who are present, but not reallythere.

It also creates a world where we are expected to be available and to monitor work 24/7.

According to new research published in Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings, this is taking a toll on the mental health and well-being of both employees and their partners.

As reported in Time magazine, participants in the research who said they felt an obligation to check professional emails outside of traditional work hours also tended to report higher levels of anxiety and lower measures of well-being. The report says that this effect seemed to be true regardless of how much time individuals actually spent on their work accounts, suggesting that the mere expectation of being online was enough to take a toll.

As has been well documented, life expectancy in the United States is decreasing. As reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association Network, after decades of living longer lives, middle-aged or working-age adult Americans are dying earlier due to increasing cases of suicides, drug overdoses and diseases such as liver cancer, obesity and cirrhosis. Hard hit are adults between 25 and 64 years old. The way we live and technology must certainly have some connection to this.

There is at least a demographic “silver lining” to this story. Centenarians are the fastest growing age segment of the population today. As reported in the Registered Dental Hygienist, or RDH, Magazine, more than 72,000 centenarians currently live in the United States. If trends continue at the current rate, the United States could have 500,000 centenarians by 2055, according to the report. Experts believe that we can expect some individuals already born will exceed 125 years old.

Researchers have documented some commonalities of lifestyle factors related to long lives and have discovered key psychological and social aspects of importance. Optimism, a sense of humor, a passionate commitment, engagement and an ability to cope with loss are among them.

Currently, experts recommend things like mindfulness exercises such as meditation for countering job-related anxiety and enhancing wellness. Laura L. Carstensen, professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, believes that this does not nearly go far enough. In a recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, she suggests that today’s world requires a major redesign of life itself.

As it stands, old age has just gotten longer. Rather than imagine the ways we might use our later years to improve quality of life, they have merely been tacked on at the end. “If we do not begin to envision what satisfying, engaged and meaningful century-long lives can look like, we will certainly fail to build worlds that can take us there … The problem is living in cultures designed for lives half as long as the ones we have.”

Acknowledging that longevity demands rethinking of all stages of life, the Stanford Center on Longevity launched an initiative called The New Map of Life. For this initiative, they convened a diverse group of experts that included engineers, pediatricians, behavioral scientists, financial experts, biologists, educators, health care providers, philanthropists and others.

They concluded that an education ending in one’s early 20s is ill-suited for longer working lives and that current social norms fail to address families that include four or five living generations.

Rather than traditional models, “there should be many different routes, interweaving leisure, work, education and family throughout life, taking people from birth to death with places to stop, rest, change courses and repeat steps along the way,” Carstensen writes. “Old age alone wouldn’t last longer; rather, youth and middle age would expand, too.”

In this world, education would not end in youth; it would be ever-present and take many forms outside of classrooms, from microdegrees to traveling the world. People would find joy in unlearning and relearning. Work, too, would change and facilitate frequent “retirements” as we zigzag in and out of the labor force, especially employees who are caring for young children or elderly parents, with more participation by workers over 60.

“Maintaining physical fitness from the beginning to end of life will be paramount,” Carstensen writes. “Longer lives present us with an opportunity to redesign the way we live. The greatest risk of failure is setting the bar too low.”

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness.

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