Ross: One day we might need an app to remind us to breathe

Aug 23, 2023, 8:08 AM | Updated: 8:19 am

app breathe...

(Photo by Adek BERRY / AFP) (Photo by ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images)

I guess our smoke episode has me subconsciously preoccupied with breathing because I found myself reading a New York Times article headlined “Checking E-Mail? You’re probably Not Breathing.”

Yes! The story describes a phenomenon noticed years ago by computer gazers who found that during long stretches of screen time, they would just stop breathing. It was dubbed E-mail Apnea and, later, Screen Apnea.

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And while the evidence seems mostly anecdotal, the article got an unusually positive response in the comments section from people who say it happens to them all the time.

But what worries me is the recommended cure proposed in the article was to set up “breath reminders.” An app to remind yourself to breathe! Like those apps that remind you to get up and walk around!

This is the vicious vortex we’ve fallen into.

As we all know, the human body evolves to fit its own inventions. By adopting clothing, we evolved to be hairless so that now we depend on clothing. We discovered fire, now we’re completely dependent on various forms of combustion. We invented music. Now, we have to pay $7,000 to see Taylor Swift.

Diet apps tell you when and what to eat or remind you to get up and walk, and over time, I can see our autonomic nervous system being replaced by smartphone reminders until, ultimately, you’ll need an app to remind your heart to beat.

At that point, Apple can charge whatever it wants because your iPhone is the only thing reminding you how to stay alive.

And that’s no way to live.

Smoke storms just assault your lungs. The digital particulates assault your brain.

The only solution I can come up with is something I saw proposed about a year ago: a Jewish-style digital Shabbat.

Except it wouldn’t be just for the Jews. It would be for everybody. The United Nations would throw a switch, and the Internet would just be shut off, a little like closing Interstate 405 for the weekend. We survived that just fine.

With the screens gone dark, we would walk together, meet the neighbors, talk to each other over dinner, barter, organize block parties, wear colorful costumes, and learn folk dancing.

“But Dave, what about emergencies?”

I don’t know. Maybe over time you would arrange to have an EMT living on every block. I can’t figure out all the details by myself.

All I know is that on Monday, we were miserable creatures choking on smoke, and a day later, thanks to the west wind, we could breathe again. We need the digital equivalent of a stiff west wind.

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Ross: One day we might need an app to remind us to breathe