The Year of Yes, ep. 5: YES, LOOK UP!

Looking up, outside my window at home in east williamsburg, brooklyn

Looking up, outside my window at home in east williamsburg, brooklyn

YES, look up. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Like billions of others, I am guilty of standing in line, riding the subway, and walking to my next destination with my head down, cell phone in hand. But, why does it matter?

I’ve been considering the larger consequences of looking downward as much as we do - usually the result of using a digital device. 

✦ BODY: For one thing, there’s a major posture issue, physical therapists informally refer to this issue as “text neck”. A study from 2014 suggests that the pressure on your neck when looking down at a cell phone is the equivalent of placing the weight of a small child on it. Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, a New York based surgeon, writes in his paper, "as the head tilts forward the forces seen by the neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees [all the way to] 60 pounds at 60 degrees," (see corresponding image here). In my own practice, I have seen countless patients with neck and upper back pain, often stemming from the same repetitive habits.

✦ MIND: Then there’s the problem of our focus and mental aptitude diminishing. A recent study at the University of Texas showed that your cognitive capacity is reduced when your smartphone is within eyeshot, even if it is turned off. What a bummer!

✦ CONNECTION: Finally, the lack of connection with others that we perpetuate when we’re always looking down is a real issue. A study from 2016 playfully named this act “phubbing,” a portmanteau of “phone” and “snubbing.” But, it's far from funny. The very devices that promise increased connectivity (hey look! I’ve got 7 gazillion friends on Facebook!) is actually getting in the way of genuine human interaction.

I’m by no means suggesting that digital devices are evil or should be banished in some way. But in this new era of everything digitized, perhaps we can start using our devices more thoughtfully.

So, take a break from your smartphone - quiet it completely, or better yet turn it off, and put it away out of eyesight. Then look up.

You may see the expanse of our ever-changing sky. Or a beautiful tree gracefully reaching up. Or the eyes of another human or animal, causing the compassion center of your brain to light up. 

Looking up connects us. It brings us into the everlasting present moment. It's life - you know, that thing happening here and now. 💛


The Year of Yes is a weekly photo-and-word installment by Dr. Shah written with the purpose of evoking hope, resilience, and a gentle movement toward healthy change in all of us.