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How the Internet Will Change Your Body

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Part IV of a four-part series

Posted December 29, 2010

Plan 1: Make Mobile Computing Truly Mobile

Internet providers happily point out that the Net now goes everywhere—with the possible exception of extra-planetary outer space. You can watch narwhals piercing the Arctic ice sheet while you argue with your health insurance provider about your massively increased medical bills.

So why not walk everywhere you go with your mobile device?

People have been intelligently walking and talking for thousands of years. Socrates, Plato and the Athenian Peripatetic philosophers walked and talked into creating many of the more compelling ideas of western civilization. Nor should we conclude that Confucius declaimed sitting down.

Humans are walking machines. People in hunter-gatherer societies still walk 12-14 miles a day. Try this—having a business meeting outside—often people come up with startlingly different ideas.

Moving immediately after meals can change the dynamics of glucose and insulin in ways that make it easier to control weight. People adroit enough to text under dining tables or while driving cars should have no difficulty simultaneously walking and talking at the same time—though they still must mind the traffic. Hopefully they will also take the time to notice the environment in which they live and the necessity of a healthy environment to both their health and economic survival. Cities that lie below rising sea levels will be decidedly less “cool” than ones that remain safely above.

Plan 2: Make Your Body “Smart”

Electronic sensors are showing up everywhere. Cheap, “smart” technology has the potential to save water and energy, decrease environmental pollution, and increase economic productivity. Smart sensors can also be used by authoritarian states to observe and ultimately punish their dissident populations.

However, using sensors on yourself can, if privacy is maintained, be both politically easy and physically healthful. Devices that presume to measure your sleep quality are all over the market, and cheap sensors that look at your exercise level are used by millions of athletes and non-athletes to monitor their physical capacity and health.

Here is one area where the disruptive double mirror of virtual me and real me can be drawn back into a single reflective surface. Much of the population woefully overestimates its level of physical activity. Much of the population has no clue what’s inside the restaurant and fast food they shovel into their bodies.

Sensors can change all that. Cardiologists may get excited, but not everyone will enjoy charting their heart rate minute by minute. However, knowing what you’re eating and how your body works in real time can give you critical data.

That information includes what you do; what you’re capable of doing; and discovering what you really like to do.

Much as we deal constantly with machines, we are not yet cyborgs ourselves. More information is not necessarily useful information, but the Net frees us in ways not yet seen. We can go anywhere and still access immense stores of information. We can visit and stay in nature and investigate the nature of our own bodies. We can pay attention to the world we live in new ways that can provide us different ideas on how to solve the problems that multiply by the hour.

First and foremost we must pay attention. We especially must pay attention to attention itself. That’s how our brains work—paying attention to one thing at a time. As we learn to concentrate and think, to actively rest, we can enjoy our lives in new yet thoroughly natural ways. We can especially increase our chances for obtaining “flow”—the peak experiences of physical and social communion that will now be available to us in ever increasing areas of our environment.

But we have to pay lots of attention to our bodies first—what makes them work and what changes them. Glance in the mirror—recognize that your body has significantly changed in the last 24 hours. It has learned a great deal and it has rebuilt itself using what it has learned.

What we do is what we become. The Net is changing our brains and our bodies, and we better understand what shifts will occur. Then we can make the changes we want, and make them work for us.

Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H., is an internationally recognized expert on rest, sleep, and body clocks. His books include The Body Clock Advantage, Designed to Last, and Psychological Time and Mental Illness. His new book, The Power of Rest, shows that rest is a skill that rebuilds, renews, and rewires mind and body, and can increase productivity, health, and pleasure. For more information, visit his website, You can also subscribe to his new Fitcast via the iTunes Store.


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