“Phone bone” is the name for a bony projection in the back of the human skull, scientifically known as External Occipital Protuberance (EOP). More like cartilage than actual bone, hysteria came in late June 2019 after The Washington Post published an article titled “‘Horns’ are Growing on Young People’s Skulls. Phone Use is to Blame, Research Suggests.” The author of the piece, Isaac Stanley-Becker reports that studies are suggesting young people are developing phone bone, or “bone spurs” due to the constant motion of looking down while using their phones.
When I first heard about this phenomenon, I have to admit, I did feel around the back of my head. The thought of something unintentionally growing back there had me spooked… which was exactly the point.
More than anything, the headline fueled the divide between baby boomers and millennials — a feud that’s created the infamous “Millennials Are Killing Everything” trend. But just like this hilarious phenomenon, phone bone is based on a purposeful misinterpretation of information. As it turns out, bone spurs are actually a regular occurrence that has been happening for centuries.
What this snafu was successful at reawakening, however, is the fear of progress and technology that many people still have — technological advancements and the effects they have on our bodies is very much a sensitive topic, either met with interest, fear, or disapproval.
And some of it is merited. Madeleine J. George, a Duke Ph.D. candidate, led a study through Duke University that examined the effects of technology usage of children from low-income households, ages 11-15, who were already at-risk for mental health issues. The researchers found that on days when the participants used their devices more, they were more likely to experience conduct problems such as lying, fighting, and other behavioral issues, while also having difficulty paying attention and exhibiting symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
Typically, these facts are all that gets read before a head-shaking adult shares an alarming article on Facebook or Twitter. But what the study also found was evidence that digital technology use may actually be helpful to adolescents experiencing depression and anxiety.
Maybe our electronic devices aren’t as bad as we think.
People use their phones, tablets, and computers for a slew of various purposes. I love to watch independent news media, listen to new music, and read. Reading has many benefits, including heightened brain activity and increasing the capacity of your working memory. Overall, Americans are reading much more now than they did in the 1900’s, with 88% of Americans under-30 reading more than their older counterparts. With most reading being done on electronic devices, people are improving their minds every day through the Internet.
And it’s not just your brain that’s seeing the benefits — tech is also getting people up and moving. A study conducted by Hanzhang Xu, a graduate student at Duke University School of Nursing found that users who played the popular game, Pokemon GO added an extra 1,976 steps to their step count. Along with countless workout apps — everything from yoga to running to weight-lifting routines — the increase in exercise can counteract the effects of weight-promoting genes.
Additionally, in the prosthetic technology fields tech has made considerable strides. In July of this year, researchers at the University of Utah developed an algorithm for a biomechanical arm, called the LUKE, that allows it to sense touch. One of the volunteers in the study, an amputee, was able to use the arm to pick up eggs without breaking them and hold his wife’s arm gently while feeling her grasp. Gregory Clark, the lead researcher, said “Providing sensation is a big deal, but the way you send that information is also critically important, and if you make it more biologically realistic, the brain will understand it better.”
It’s true that this much advancement can feel overwhelming, if not unnatural. Juan Enriquez, co-author of Evolving Ourselves — How Unnatural Selection and Non-Random Mutation are Changing Life on Earth, agrees but counters, “People tend to think of the word ‘unnatural’ as bad. Unnatural has been really good for us.”
Indeed, the invention of penicillin, surgeries, and other advancements have doubled the lifespan of humans. We’re living a more comfortable life than we ever have in history. Some uses of technology have created a sedentary lifestyle, sure, but it has also made marvelous changes and advancements in society. While the future of technology may be unnatural, it’s certainly not detrimental… horns and all.
Johanie Martinez-Cools is a blogger, writer, book editor, and aspiring author. Follow her on Twitter at @jmartdotcom.