Is IT revolution a bane or boon for mankind is a never ending debate. But with large number of youngsters finding solace in the virtual world at cost of their health, fault lines have become clear. Shakir Mir reports
Everything was hunky-dory with Aatif (27), a banker by profession until his daily routine was marred by the occurrence of a disorder whose source he couldn’t decipher. Aatif, for whom working on laptop was inevitable, had suddenly come to disuse the system owning to a sudden numbness in his arms. His fingers started to pain and he subsequently disliked working.
When Aatif visited doctor, they diagnosed him with a condition that wasn’t new though but had already kick-started an outbreak of sorts in the Kashmir valley. The sources of his illness were: Gadgets.
Ever since the mobile telephony made its way into J&K some 12 years ago, the state has witnessed a tremendous change in its socio-professional landscape. Aiding the phenomenon was advent of various electronic gadgets and their portability factor that let loose a whole ‘IT revolution’ raging across state. A total 66.65 percent (nearly 2/3rd) of J&K’s population is currently availing services of various network-providers.
Mobile-users across the state are carrying sets worth Rs 6500 crore in their hands. Each year, people buy new mobile sets worth Rs 600 crore while laptops worth Rs 77 crore are believed to be sold annually in Kashmir Valley alone.
IT sector has made substantial inroads into the state’s economy but not without leaving an adverse impact on the overall health scenario. From pathological fixation with social media to taking selfies at the drop of a hat, experts maintain that unrestrained reliance on IT tools have spawned a whole new breed of mental and physical illnesses.
Doctors in Valley say they have registered a record high number of cases with Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s) that results when users overstrain their muscles by doing a particular action over and again. “Earlier people used to injure themselves while playing or fall after climbing trees, those cases has clear diagnoses but now what we are seeing is totally different thing,” Dr Ahmad Javed, a Physiotherapist, says while trying to assert the gravity of the crisis. Now the injury cases are rising due to actions seemingly as innocuous as typing and clicking.
RSI is basically a catch-all term for an assemblage of conditions that develop due to repetitive tasks. Mouse clicking, keyboard typing, dialling on number pads have been identified as some key repetitive activities giving rise to RSI’s.
RSI starts with little pain and then gradually intensifies over a period of time. “If a person is taller and looks down at laptop at an improper angle, it will strain their neck,” says Dr Javed.
The problem is compounded when RSI sufferers, due to certain inertia, don’t consult the concerned expert and instead visit physicians, who, mixing these problems with other conditions, administer them with pain-killers. “Misdiagnose is a major challenge,” he says. “RSI’s cannot be detected by medical tests. It is a functional injury.”
The threat is simple: When these patients are put on medication and problem still persists, it leads to depression and ultimately recourse to anti-depressants. “Which is actually a very dangerous trend,” he adds.
Addiction to social media, in particular, has changed the lifestyle of individuals who increasingly seek seclusion fuelling their gradual withdrawal from the society. This has horrible ramifications, according to experts.
Experts feel the change of socialization spaces from real to the virtual world is quite worrying. “Youngsters believe need to socialize in the real world is probably not required,” says Dr Arshid Hussain, a Psychiatrist at SMHS hospital. “People think virtual world is indispensable part of their lives and they cannot live without it.”
That is why some people get irritated when mobile is lost or internet connectivity is snapped.
Internet addiction, Dr Arshid says, impairs socio-professional functioning which is pivotal to normal brain-functioning. “It leads to problems like sleep disturbances and ultimately sleep phase shifts which can lead to mood changes and irritability.” Thus youngsters, who spend more time with gadgets, are likely to quarrel with parents and loose temper over trivial issues.
“Such people are prone to road accidents as well because of lapses of concentration,” he says.
It is not just social media and other Internet-enabled facilities that give rise to mental hazards, doctors believe that a minor’s brain is so vulnerable to the depictions in movies that if there are instances of loss, death or trauma in the storyline, children relate to those occurrences. “They might feel it as actual loss which leads to stress and emotional strain.”
Another psychological downside of excessive exposure to gadgets is the false sense of ego. Youngsters derive a sense of self-worth from fact that they possess expensive phones. “Instead of investing trust in their personality and qualification, they feel these gadgets will fetch them respect,” says Dr Arif Maghribi Khan, a Mental Health Doctor who formerly worked with United Nations Development Program (UNDP). “And if they are taken away from these gadgets especially by parents, an emotional vacuum overwhelms them.”
Khan believes youngsters establish an emotional connection with their gadgets, which gets disturbed if these gadgets are taken away. It can even lead to drug abuse. Dr Arif reveals almost 25 percent of his drug abuse related patients admit having been “too attached” to electronic gadgets at some point of time.
Mental hazards apart, excessive fixation with gadgetry can lead to problems like obesity and other endocrine disorders.
Even taking selfies – taking your own picture – a fast catching trend among youngsters is responsible for conditions like Obsessive Spectrum Disorder’s (OSD). However such an OSD is less prevalent in Kashmir at present.
Interestingly scientists in the USA mulled declaring the practice of taking selfies as disorder. The deal couldn’t be clinched due to lack of consensus. “But the fact that it was taken up at first place underscores a realization even among international psychiatrists how this have become problem of sorts,” Dr Arif says.
Dr Arif had once treated a young gym-goer from Srinagar who felt that he developed disfigurement in muscles. Upon inspecting his body, nothing as such was found. “When I asked him why he came to such conclusion, he showed me his 300 selfies,” he says. The boy had developed an OSD due to the habit of taking selfies. “He felt that his body has acquired a problem which wasn’t true. That’s the case with most OSD sufferers.”
The phenomenon also seems to have taken a toll on the aspect of vision. Eye-specialists who spoke to Kashmir Life admitted registering a steep increase in the number of patients, especially younger children with eye-related disorders. There has been a frequent rise in cases with Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) which happens when users glare ceaselessly at their laptop or mobile phone screens.
Saqib (23) of Soura locality faced tough time reading books and maintaining focus on different activities. His eyes had swollen red due to continuous rubbing. Saqib’s habit of excessive involvement with the gadgetry had led to itching and irritation. “Doctors advised me against rubbing my eyes briskly but I couldn’t help it,” he says. “Consequently, I chafed the skin around my eyes and now even blinking causes pain.”
When he visited doctors, they prescribed him lubricants. “That’s the key remedy as of now,” says Bashir Ahmad, a prominent eye-specialist. “The screens of these gadgets have short-term effect on our eyes. There are no long term effects though.”
When an eye stays open for a prolonged period, the normal blink rate (15-20 times per minute) decreases and causes the moisture present inside cornea dry out resulting in irritation. “This dryness leads to fatigability,” says Dr Khursheed, an Ophthalmologist. “By not maintaining a proper distance or drawing too close to your laptop forces your eye to overwork.”
Moreover the diode light that screens emit are not appreciable to the human eyes. The culture of reading e-books has been picking up of late across Kashmir valley. “Normal books have this contrast of white paper printed with black letters. This pattern is appreciable to our eyes,” Dr Khursheed says. “I am increasingly getting patients with cases of refractive diseases like myopia and hypermetropia.”
But the woes don’t end here. Saqib says he is addicted to the tear-substitutes. “I feel the irritation in my eyes as soon as I stop using them.” Doctors, however say that patients must emphasize on preventive care instead of medicinal therapies.
“In such cases we need to take certain preventive measures,” Dr Bashir says. “Those include taking hour long intervals while you work at your laptop for too long.”
The Way Out
Though the importance of the IT sector cannot be underplayed since the profit far outweighs the loss, but experts have suggested paying more attention towards precautionary measures. Parents are advised to keep a tab on the activities and the period children spend time with gadgets. “If the problem spirals out of control, we advise counselling,” Dr Arshid says. “In case serious problems like sleep phase shifts we prescribe medication.” Sleep is pivotal to the human health since neuroharmonal functioning happens during the sleep, deprivation of which increases likelihood of diabetes, hypertension, metabolic illnesses and other lifestyle diseases.
Doctors also advise to maintain a proper distance from the laptop screens. “The distance has to be of an arm’s length,” Dr Khursheed says. “After looking at screens for more than half an hour one must close his eyes and relax.”
Experts also suggest raising awareness among general public about the proper work culture that would alleviate the strain produced in body. “It has to be employer-friendly,” sighs Dr Javed who believes that offices across Kashmir need to implement the ergonomic guidelines and carry out risk assessment to lower the chances of RSI. “If you are a regular computer user or a telephone operator, then you are at risk.”