Is hypertexting a health problem?

November 17, 2010

By Cindy Merrick

A recent survey of high schoolers indicated some attention-grabbing relationships between high-risk behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse and frequent sexual activity, with activities known as “hypertexting” (texting at least 120 messages per school day) and “hypernetworking” (spending at least 3 hours per school day on social networking sites).

Dr. Scott Frank of Case Western Reserve University announced last week the findings of a survey of over 4200 high school students in the Midwest at an annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Denver in a talk entitled, “Hypertexting and Hypernetworking: A New Health Risk Category for Teens?” In his abstract, Frank says that 19.8 percent of the students fell into the category of hypertexting and 11.5 percent fell into the category of hypernetworking.

This survey associated both behaviors with higher levels of sexual activity, binge drinking, suicidal ideation, and tobacco and marijuana use. Further, participators in hypertexting and hypernetworking tended to be obese or have other eating disorders and get less sleep. Such associations were made after controlling for demographic factors. Frank concludes that “Excessive use of communications technology among teens is related to higher levels of health risk behaviors and poorer health outcomes.”

Specific numbers from the survey look compelling: hypertexters are 43 percent more likely to be binge drinkers and 41 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs; hypernetworkers are 69 percent more likely to be binge drinkers and 84 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs. Less clear is what the link between hypertexting or hypernetworking and risky behavior actually is.

Which means it’s premature to label hypertexting and hypernetworking a “Health Risk Category.” No direct harm is described and, as Frank told the Washington Post, “the study was not intended to show causality.”

Unfortunately, his university’s press release ran with the headline “Hyper-texting and Hyper-Networking Pose New Health Risks for Teens,” and other news organizations followed suit. Frank offered the Post a thin justification: “It does depend on who they’re texting with. Their choice of friends in the single most important thing. The more texting they do, the more potential for exposure to high-tech peer pressure.”

But what are the odds the kids wouldn’t have any friends or be subjected to peer-pressure if they didn’t text? This seems to be a case of mistaking the tool for the cause, and the best that can be said for such a notion is that it begs for more direct study. In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to succinctly state Frank’s findings this way: Teens Likely to Try Risky Behavior Also Text a Lot!


The Internet has not discouraged people from visiting cafes, study finds

November 6, 2009

Past research has hinted that technology might be the cause of social isolation; however, a new report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project indicates that the use of technology actually leads to increased and more diverse social networks.

Keith Hampton, lead author of the report and professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, explains:

“It turns out that those who use the Internet and mobile phones have notable social advantages…People use the technology to stay in touch and share information in ways that keep them socially active and connected to their communities.”

Data about discussion networks was collected using a 2008 telephone survey of 2,512 adults. The study controlled for a variety of factors such as sex, age and education. According to Reuters, here are some of the report’s key findings:

  • Social isolation has barely changed since 1985; only six percent of adults have reported no one significant in their life.
  • A discussion network is 12 percent larger among cell phone users and nine percent larger for those who use instant messaging and share photos.
  • The diversity of social networks was the largest for those who use the internet frequently, 25 percent larger for cell phone users and 15 percent larger for basic internet users.
  • The internet has not discouraged people from visiting public places (parks, cafes, etc).
  • The average amount of friends and family a person typically confides in has decreased; however, this was not associated with the use of technology.
  • People now use cell phones more than landlines to stay in touch.
  • Face-to-face contact is still the primary method people use to keep in touch. On average, a person sees their close group of friends 210 days out of the year.

Click here to read the full report.

The perils of incorrect texting technique

July 9, 2009

On top of everything else there is to worry about – bills, your job, what you eat (just to name a few) – now you have to worry about your texting technique. Apparently there’s a proper way to text and continually using poor technique might cause hand, arm, and even neck pain. If you’re like me, and texting is your preferred form of communication, the results of this study might be slightly concerning … or simply resign you to a fate of hand and neck pain.

The study was conducted at the Sahlgrenska Academy (at the University of Gothenburg) in Sweden and was led by ergonomist Ewa Gustafsson. As part of the study, researchers analyzed the texting technique of 56 young adults who text on a daily basis. They used a device that measures flexibility in order to monitor muscular activity and thumb movement. About half of the participants complained of pain in the neck, arms, or hands.

They found that those experiencing pain tended to text with one thumb, using it at an increased speed and with less breaks. Participants with pain were also more likely to text while hunching over, therefore putting strain on the neck and back.

If you’re interested in improving the way you text, the study’s news release provides some not-exactly-groundbreaking advice:


Don’t sit in the same position for a long time; instead try to vary your position. Use the chair’s backrest. Relieve your forearms by resting them against a desk or your thighs. Use both thumbs. Avoid hunching over for a long time. Give your thumbs a break when typing long messages. Don’t type too fast.”


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