Computer overuse carries risks
February 21, 2008
Filed under FEATURE
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Students finally have a legitimate reason to avoid doing homework on Friday nights. Overusing the computer can have serious negative health effects. Carpal tunnel syndrome, Internet addiction, computer vision syndrome and back strains are dangers of over-using the computer.
“The physical affects are trivial in comparison to problems with socialization. Computers can really damage some people,” said Ellen Collette, director of the health center.
Most effects occur when computers are significantly over-used. While there is no conclusive evidence about what the best amount of time is, many researchers agree that two hours a day is an appropriate time limit. This can change depending on what users are doing online and how frequently they do it.
Walla Walla’s Valley Vision Center offers patients special glasses that reduce the strain of computer usage.
“The older you get, the more likely excessive computer usage is to affect you. But young people are in danger,” said optometrist Dr. Ken Hatley. While he doesn’t regularly diagnose many college students, he does see them on occasion and attributes their vision problems to “too many all-nighters.”
“Students would benefit greatly from breaking up their work throughout the semester. They should avoid final-time all-nighters at all costs,” he said.
Over 70 percent of all computer users need the special eyeglasses, though not nearly that many experience the symptoms or are diagnosed.
Depression, anxiety and insomnia are other common side effects of excessive computer usage. Researchers warn against “Internet Addiction,” which happens a user is on the Internet so much that it interferes with a healthy lifestyle.
It’s considered an addiction when users miss meals or family time, have a chemical dependency and thereby suffer physical discomfort when they reduce time spent on the Internet, and lose sleep because they are on the Internet.
Certainly, students at Whitman College are not exempt from the dangers of over-using the computer. Whitman printers spit out an average of 6,109 pages a day, according to WCTS. With only 1,454 students at the school, this means each student spends a lot of paper, and probably a lot of time just writing and printing.
With Web sites like facebook.com and wikipedia.org, students are spending an increasingly long amount of time on the Internet. Some students even depend on their computers for academic aid.
“We have over 100 students that have checked out programs that can help them,” said Academic Resource Center Program Coordinator Penny Hood. Students with learning disabilities have access to programs that can verbally read their textbooks, transcribe their spoken word into written text and even write out mathematical formulas with the touch of a key.
Other programs are available to the general student population. There is software installed on the computers in Olin and Maxey that can take written ideas and help turn them into an essay outline.
One study suggests that it is not uncommon for undergraduate students to spend at least eight hours a week on the Internet and over 12 hours a week using computers.
While most students benefit from computers, physical problems are very real threats.
Back strains and carpal tunnel syndrome are both problems that can be prevented. Computer users should have supportive comfortable chairs with supportive backs and should take five minute breaks at least once an hour. Regular exercising will help prevent over-straining muscles, and students should try not to spend more than two hours on the computer without a long break.
The best way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome is to practice good posture. Elbows should be bent at 90 degrees, and the wrist should have proper support.