Sunday, April 18, 2010

Computers Make You Fat

Yes, I'm alive. No, I'm not returning to regular blogging anytime soon. But I had a thought and wanted to note it down.

There are many theories about why there is an outbreak of obesity among affluent nations and affluent segments of not-so-affluent nations. It's the high fructose corn syrup. It's the carbs. It's the trans-fats. It's the pollution. It's the vaccinations. Etc.

There is one global phenomenon that pretty much tracks the growth in obesity and that is the growth in adoption of personal computers at work and home.

Computers make you fat.

Or, to be a little more detailed, the expansion of computers combined with the increasing speed of the data pipelines - good enough now in many places to stream movies and conduct first-person shooter games over the internet - changes the human environment to such an extent that opportunities for physical motion has been dramatically reduced and the always-on (and thus always intrusive) connection discourages us from turning to other things. Let me check that email one more time!

Instead of walking to a colleague's office, you IM or email her. Work becomes keyboard and screen interaction and it becomes almost inescapable. You spend your evenings answering emails or preparing for tomorrow instead of taking a walk around the neighborhood or just puttering in the yard or taking care of some odd job around the house. It's not just that we sit in front of computers (we've had TVs a lot longer), but the combination of the PC and the perpetual connection that narrows our physicality. I have 8 emails on my company issued phone right now from my previous manager (who can't seem to understand I don't work in that department anymore), sent since close of business Friday. Leisure time vanishes.

The high-speed and highly fragmented mode of interaction that is paradigmatic of current computing reinforces behaviors that are conducive to obesity. The explosion of hyper-processed food fits a form of life that needs a hand free for the device. Phone, mouse, game controller; if it interferes with the flick of the wrist, it's worse than toast. Toast you can eat with one hand. I stare in awe at the variety of prepared foods - fresh, frozen, shelf-stable - that are available to me.

When the physical representation of the society is molded around the ideal of a man sitting with an electronic device in one hand and accomplishing important business with the other, that mold affects how our public spaces are arranged, how our food is conceptualized, produced and delivered, how our interactions with our social circles (work, family, friends, associations) are channeled.

Games. Social networks. Business. Video calls. Ubiquitous computing. Perpetual connections. Thoroughly mediated experiences. The mundane corners of my life, things like the kinds of food I can find on the shelf and the presumption that I will always carry a GPS enabled device on my person, have been colonized by the ever present computer.

It isn't the sole reason for obesity. I eat too much for the amount of calories I burn. That's the mechanics of the problem. But it is a powerful factor in the environment that makes it so easy for me to type, munch, type, munch, type, munch, answer that incoming call....

The expansion of my ass is directly in proportion to the expansion of my time in front of a computer.



Bob Harrison said...

Good to hear from you again.

Joyce L. Arnold said...

First, great to hear from you, whenever your schedule allows.

Second,I think you are correct -- much easier to type and send than to get up and walk down the hall. I think, though, this might be one way I can find something almost positive about being in a rural area, with no access to highspeed -- no way am I going to watch a movie, or even a short YouTube. So maybe that motivates me to get up and go for a walk. Though I find myself picking up a book instead ....

cgeye said...

Why does one need energy drinks? Before, exercise provided the heartracing alertness that allowed one to spend late hours at work. Now, you need sugar (which rebounds horribly, calorically), caffeine (ditto) and taurine / other stimulants (megadittoes), all to simulate the rush of running somewhere, or lifting iron. We have substituted consumption for experience.

Also, the War on (some) Drugs has channeled our usual American tendency toward addictive behaviors into food -- and food addiction, having obvious symptoms, is a gold mine to sustain and mock. Even drug lords don't diss their customers as openly as Big Food does through its diet arms, and caress them as thoroughly, through their fat-food arms. It's the inescapable, perfect addiction to cultivate, and there's been hundreds of years of research of how to addict people whose ancestors starved with the right blend of sugar/salt/fat. The only reason the companies (not consumers through lifestyle monitoring or taxes, the *companies*) haven't faced RICO action is that the tobacco and other danger companies shifted to food, once the fix was in.

That fix has been supported by the government, through ag policy, so who do you think's gonna stop them, now? As the old Subgenii used to say, over a decade ago, they're fattening us up for the harvest -- nothing's better than to get your economic and social competitors to kill themselves, and if heroin or crack didn't do it, then why not fried chicken?

CoyoteCreek said...

So glad to see you - big ass and all!! (That's a snark!).

But I agree. I had my laptop in the main room of the house, near the TV and the food and I never left. Never practiced my piano. Never went for a walk. Never m o v e d.

Got a new computer that is down the hall and away from those temptations and it's amazing how many other things I'm now doing in life.

Now, if I can only shed that 20 pounds I've picked up....

Hope you return sometime soon - I miss you. Lots!

Cynthia Tyler said...

Reminds me of that E.M. Forster story, The Machine Stops.

Unknown said...

good you're back

Koshem Bos said...

With three laptops in our reach, we both have strict food regime, three medium size meals and a snack late.

If you have discipline computers compete with Netflex movies on the TV and a book of the week.

The correlation between obesity and use of computers may be in the 90+% but the causality is suspect.

Other Lisa said...

Glad you are back!

Yes, computers make you fat. Before that, TV did (sitting plus constant messages to eat junk).

Our entire economy is structured in a way that makes people fat. Long commutes to jobs from communities where goods and services are not within walking distance. Jobs that require you to sit on your ass all day. It all adds up.