Text Neck, Or, It All Started With A Goat
June 12, 2019 9:31 PM   Subscribe

How modern life is transforming the human skeleton: ... our skeletons are surprisingly malleable. The pure white remains displayed in museums may seem solid and inert, but the bones beneath our flesh are very much alive ... and they’re constantly being broken down and rebuilt. So although each person’s skeleton develops according to a rough template set out in their DNA, it is then tailored to accommodate the unique stresses of their life.

A discipline known as osteobiography has emerged that studies such things as a spiky growth on the back of many people’s skulls, the fact that our jaws and elbows are getting smaller, and the mystery of the “strong men” of Guam and the Mariana Islands.
posted by Greg_Ace (18 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Let's all feel our skulls together, folks!
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:31 PM on June 12 [14 favorites]

I barely made it through the first sentence before I caught myself correcting my posture. Not to worry, it'll be back to hunched over and slope-y shoulders by the time I click Post Comment.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 9:38 PM on June 12 [9 favorites]

Soon elbow implants will be all the rage among incels. The most aspiring will have their knees swapped in.
posted by XMLicious at 10:28 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]

This is fascinating. Now I'm trying to figure out how much walking I did as a kid - not enough, if we go by my wrists and elbows.

I can't feel a skull spike but I don't know what I'm feeling for. I obviously need to start feeling other people's heads. Wait, I get my stress headaches at the back of my head... Hmm.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:20 AM on June 13

None of this will come as news to people who have read The Enigma of Amigara Fault.
posted by um at 2:22 AM on June 13 [10 favorites]

They found something similar with microgravity, didn't they? The astronaut's bones got weaker and more brittle, as they weren't being stressed at all.
posted by Mogur at 3:30 AM on June 13

just wait until the phone spikes grow long enough that people can use them to fight for space on mass transit! Then they will be used in mating displays!
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:09 AM on June 13 [16 favorites]

I think I have a small skull spike! I doubt it would be visible even if I shaved my head, but when I press I can feel a small bump. I don't think it's phone-related because I don't use the internet on my phone except in emergencies, but I have been a chronic reader and slumpy person since very small, and also everyone in my family has enormous heads. We might require skull spikes just to balance them even on a normal day. (I'm completely serious - I stand a hair under 5'5" and I require xxl men's hats.)

It's not really a spike though - I mean, I couldn't impale anything with it.
posted by Frowner at 5:30 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]

Have you tried? Practice should elongate it, if the article is correct....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:41 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I have a small bump/spike back there, too, perhaps as a side effect of being a book worm as a kid.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:41 AM on June 13

I don't know if the phrasing "take exercise" was deliberate but it makes me very uncomfortable.
posted by ToddBurson at 7:26 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I have noticed at least a few teenagers who have necks that shoot straight out forward from the shoulders. As in, head pointed straight down at the phone while standing, neck at a 90° angle to the spine. That ain’t right.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:54 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I don't know about bones, but I get migraines sometimes when I overuse the head-down phone posture. Apparently, according to my neurologist, one of the long neck muscles that gets stretched out in that position can cause visual aura migraines.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:01 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]

Everything about that "text neck" hypothesis sounds like confirmation bias to me.

The spike was far more prevalent than they had expected, and also a lot more common in the youngest age group: one in four people aged 18-30 had the growth.

Of course, bad posture was not invented in the 21st Century – people have always found something to hunch over. So why didn’t we get the skull protuberances from books? One possibility is down to the sheer amount of time that we currently spend on our phones, versus how long a person would previously have spent reading. For example, even in 1973, well before most modern hand-held distractions were invented, the average American typically read for about two hours each day. In contrast, today people are spending nearly double that time on their phones.

Is they positing that intermittently looking downward for four hours a day versus two hours a day is enough to change the skulls of just 18-30 years olds but not so much the 30+ year-olds who are also addicted to their smartphones? (And why are we formulating theories about the actual growths on actual individuals' skulls through a comparison to the amount of time an "average" American used to spend reading?)

Did they rule out other posture-related changes primarily affecting younger people? Child car seat laws come to mind, which barely existed until the early 80s and became much stricter in the early 90s.

Indeed, for Shahar, the biggest surprise was just how large the spikes were. Before his study, the most recent research was conducted at an osteological lab in India, in 2012. That’s a lab specialising entirely in bones – as you can imagine, they have quite a lot of skulls – but the doctor there only found one with the growth. It measured 8 mm, which is so small, it wouldn’t even have been included in Shahar’s results. “And he thought it was significant enough to write a whole paper about it!” he says. In his own study, the most substantial growths were 30mm long.

This may contradict the prevalence of this growth? People were addicted to their smartphones five years ago. They have smartphones in India. However, it is unclear how relevant of a comparison the Indian study is in any respect, since they don't mention anything about the size of the study, the purpose of the study, whether the bones were from recently-deceased people, etc.
posted by desuetude at 9:57 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]

See also: bioarchaeology, also known as osteoarchaeology or palaeo-osteology (Wikipedia). Studying the lives of previous people based on the formations and wear-patterns on their bones.

caution live frogs: I have noticed at least a few teenagers who have necks that shoot straight out forward from the shoulders.

Pawel Kuczynski has created Control, a satirical illustration of Pikachu saddled up and riding on a human who is walking around, playing Pokémon GO (Laughing Squid)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:58 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I am pretty sure I reshaped my spine by laying on my left side for hours every day during critical bone-growing years (i.e. I did all of my homework in bed and I'm right handed.) I mentioned it to a doctor-friend who thought I was nuts but I pointed out that if you can correct scoliosis by applying constant pressure, you can sure as hell create it by doing the same and they had to concede it was possible.

I had someone draw dots on my back where they could feel my vertebra and it looked like:
If I lay on my side, it looks like:
  \ _ _
I really want to confirm this with actual X-rays someday, but Dr. Friend managed to convince me that it wasn't worth trying to seek out extra radiation just to satisfy my curiosity, especially since there are more and more things (like text neck!) I'm curious to see.
posted by yeahlikethat at 1:44 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]

A follow-up from Isaac Stanley-Becker at The Washington Post, with X-rays for your enjoyment.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:49 AM on June 20

ok nvm
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:47 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]

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