Student surgeons are losing the dexterity to compete intricate operations because they are overusing phones and tablets, one professor has argued.
Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, told the BBC that young people no longer practice using their hands by “cutting things out [and] making things” at home or in school, so they struggle by the time they reach medial school.
“An obvious example is of a surgeon needing some dexterity and skill in sewing or stitching,” he said. “A lot of things are reduced to swiping on a two-dimensional flat screen.”
So should the rest of us be worried? Jack Chew, a member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, argues that phone use might be causing us to use our thumbs more than we did in the past, which could actually increase dexterity.
Talking about general reports of smartphones impacting our hands, he said: “There’s loads of scaremongering around whether smartphone use is going to wear out our thumbs or hands, or whether it’s going to change the way we use our hands and have some sort of detrimental effect, but there’s certainly no evidence to suggest that and I don’t see that in clinic.”
He added that repetitive strain injury (RSI) can be caused by repeated movement of any kind that we’re not used to, and isn’t necessarily associated with phone use. “If you have a large change from your normal behaviour, then you’re likely to feel aches and pains in your body in a different way. But even then, it’s not going to damage you, it’s only going to make things a little sensitive for a little while because it’s something new,” he said.
And the concept of “tech neck” – people supposedly suffering neck injuries due to phone use – is not something to worry about. “There’s certainly no theoretical or scientific evidence to suggest that [this is happening], because we’re not looking down any more than we used to when we were looking at big newspapers.
“We’re having an increase in people presenting to us for various different health reasons but that’s mainly due to generalised problems in society with other health conditions, not because of the ways they’re using devices or technologies.”
Chew argues that on the whole, our increased access to technology might be helping us to make healthier life choices. “I would make the argument in this case that there is a net gain to technology usage in which we’ve got increased use of Fitbits and Apple Watches and the ways we have information at our fingertips – like people finding out where their local Parkrun is,” he said.