Last week, a 2018 study (no, it isn’t new) started making waves around the world. Sensationalized in headlines as “Phones Growing Horns on Young People,” the study actually deals with the development of bone spurs, abnormal but not uncommon tissue protrusions, between the base of the skull and spine and the subsequent hypothesis that the growths may be caused by prolonged head bowing in connection with phone use.
Now, this story interests me for many reasons. First, I’ve had bone spurs myself, though not in the cranial/spinal region. Second, I’ve always found it simultaneously hilarious and shameful when the media publishes purposefully misleading headlines. Third, I love when “medical science” reports new findings so I can begin waiting for later studies that disprove those findings. (Case in point: Last year, new research was published indicating that the long-recommended aspirin a day for heart attack prevention can actually be detrimental to health!) And finally, I seriously think that excessive cell phone use, particularly among millennials and post-millennials, is an alarming epidemic, for the disconnection from reality it engenders if nothing else. (Pastime suggestion: Engage a teen-to-twenties individual in conversation and time how long that person maintains discourse and eye contact before clocking out to check an e-device.)
But despite erroneous headlines, poor reporting, and my mistrust of “scientific studies,” the hypothesis actually makes sense to me because of my personal experience with and knowledge of bone spur development. I also believe that constantly repeating an activity that the human body is not made to constantly repeat will inevitably yield negative repercussions. It also makes sense that, even though regular cellular usage has been around for 20+ years, overuse would just now become a problem because, in the ‘90s, cell phones were actually used as phones for phone calls, not as 24-hr., handheld television screens. It further follows that the 30 and under crowd would be the most affected demographic because it comprises the first generations to grow up with near-unlimited access to mobile devices and use them during times when bodies would be in a state of growth and tissues would be delicate and malleable.
However, regardless how much the study seemed to make sense to me, after a 24-hr. digestion, the media lashed back at itself, declaring the entire report a hoax. One headline boldly proclaimed the affair “debunked,” yet, towards the end of the accompanying article, the piece actually confirms the hypothesis to be valid! It just isn’t supported enough by data at this time due to dubious methodology used in this particular research. Bottom line: Mobile devices may be causing health problems, but this study doesn’t prove it.
So, at the end of this internet firestorm, I still believe the same things I believed at the beginning:
1. Bone spurs are not cool.
2. The media will spin a story any way they want regardless of facts.
3. Science is great but a long way from having all the answers.
4. Folks should try putting down the phone/tablet and living in the real world once in a while. Who knows? They just might enjoy it.