Technology has given us many things — convenience, innovation, insight — but rarely do we think about how it has affected us physically; in fact, we may even be breaking our necks over it.
Dubbed “tech neck,” today’s smartphone users have been reportedly experiencing neck pain due to prolonged phone usage. Turns out, as we bend our necks to check our texts and Snapchat, we’re actually putting pressure on our spines that could have serious implications over time.
Then a lightbulb appeared for Robert Simoes, fourth-year biochemistry and computer science student. Simoes realized he could develop an app for that, and that’s when he created Posture.
“The idea is that I can’t force you to improve your posture,” Simoes said. “I want you to be mindful of how you hold your phone.”
Here’s how it works: once you’ve downloaded the app, you set up a timer, between one minute and 10 minutes, that checks your posture. The app then monitors the orientation of your phone and notifies you when you’ve been holding it in a bad position for too long.
“I can’t have perfect posture all the time; I’m human,” Simoes said. “But over time it’s almost like psychology in a sense that you keep getting this reinforcement. Eventually by the third time you get the indicator, it’s like oh yeah, I should probably bring this up to eye level.”
So far, the app has been doing relatively well, with a thousand downloads and 55 ratings that average around 4.5 stars. It was also recently featured on Lifehacker.
But getting the app developed was no easy feat. Simoes' coding skills were the result of a bumpy learning process that, only through sheer curiosity, did he come to acquire.
“The summary is: I tried, couldn’t do it, stopped doing it, tried again, still didn’t understand what I was doing, stopped again, tried learning again, tried getting on a project, just making absolutely no progress.”
“It was like walking into a dark room and hitting your head against everything in the room,” continued Simoes.
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During the making of Posture, Simoes really didn’t get the ball rolling until October 2016 when he attended Hack Western, a 36-hour student-run hackathon where programmers code and create to their hearts desire.
From there, Simoes was able to get beta testers and insight from fellow coders which eventually helped him perfect the app. He even won some accolades in the process.
“In the end, I pitched at Hack Western and ended up winning perfect pitch, so people seemed to really like it,” Simoes said.
Tech neck is not a new phenomena. In fact, it's been researched and explored by journalists and academics for quite some time now.
In an academic paper published by the Surgical Technology International journal, it was found that because one's head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds, tilting it down to check your phone increases the gravitational pull on said cranium.
It's not rocket science, but the paper also stated that the neck surges to 27 pounds of pressure at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees.
After using your phone for years, it's inferred that prolonged phone usage could potentially lead to wear, tear, degeneration and possibly surgery.
As of yet, the app is only available on the Android app store. Simoes wants to develop for iOS but there are a few roadblocks.
"Apple's design doesn't really allow you, to my understanding, to run apps in the background," Simoes said. "So currently, with my very limited exploration of iOS, I'm thinking I won't be developing for it."
"But if new information comes to light then yeah, it's possible. I would definitely consider it," Simoes added.
For now, however, we can thank Simoes for potentially protecting our phone-worn necks.