The Connected Life: From Email Apnea To Conscious Computing

Eighty percent of us seem to have it. I broke the story about it in early 2008 on the Huffington Post, and called the phenomenon, "email apnea." Later in 2008, in talks and interviews, I referred to it interchangeably as "email apnea" and also, as "screen apnea."

Definition: Shallow breathing or breath holding while doing email, or while working or playing in front of a screen.

While we have a greater tendency toward email apnea or screen apnea, while doing email and texting on laptops and smartphones, we are at risk for breath holding or shallow breathing in front of any screen, any time. Not only does this increase stress levels, it impacts our attitude, our sense of emotional well-being, and our ability to work effectively.

In 2007, I noticed this in myself, and then placed heart rate variability ear clips (HRV is often used to measure stress) on visiting friends while I observed them doing email and texting. I observed and interviewed people in cafes, offices, and on the street. At the same time, I contacted and interviewed physicians, psychologists, cardiologists, neuroscientists, and others, to learn about the implications of breath holding and shallow breathing, especially when it's chronic and cumulative -- day after day, hour after hour.

Recently, researchers, Gloria Mark, Stephen Voida, and Anthony Cardello, have made headway into formally validating the impact of email, using HRV.

Why are we doing this? Our posture is often compromised, especially when we use laptops and smartphones. Arms forward, shoulders forward, we sit in a position where it's impossible to get a healthy and full inhale and exhale. Further, anticipation is generally accompanied by an inhale -- and email, texting, and viewing television shows generally includes a significant dose of anticipation. Meanwhile, the full exhale rarely follows. The stress-related physiology of email apnea or screen apnea is described in some detail in my 2008 post, linked to above.

What's the remedy? A new way of interacting with technologies that I call: Conscious Computing. Technologies like the Heartmath emWave2, Huffington Post's GPS for the Soul, and a variety of optimal breathing techniques, can support us in using technologies in healthier ways. Instead of sending an email, call or walk over to your colleague's office. And there's always that other possibility: every now and then, just turn everything off.

When you text or use email on your smartphone, when you check and respond to your email, are you breathing or do you hold your breath? Is it worse when you're using a laptop vs. an iPad? How might you incorporate some of the remedies?

More on Conscious Computing, Email Apnea/Screen Apnea, Attention, Technology and Health at