From Text Neck to Hogwarts Headache: 6 Injuries for the Modern Era

Our shiny new gadgets (and one teen wizard) are proving once again that human beings are really easily breakable.

1. Text Neck

Texting image via Shutterstock

Do you have shooting pains down your neck and arm, as well as numbness or tingling in your fingers and hand? If you're over forty, you might want to call an ambulance — you could be having a heart attack. If you’re younger than that, though, it could be the fashionable new injury among cell phone users: text neck. Yes, it seems that the act of hunching over our phones for most of our waking hours might actually have some negative side effects.

Back pain clinics and chiropractors in North America and Europe are reporting seeing thousands upon thousands of text neck cases. One chiropractor, Dean L. Fishman, has seen so many injuries directly caused by over-texting that he now specializes in their treatment, registering the term and opening the Text Neck Institute. He also trains other chiropractors in how to fix the problems resulting from the fact that we all really hate actually speaking to other people. Fishman calls text neck a “global epidemic” and claims his youngest patient is three years old. The Institute’s website describes the problem like this:

“Looking down at the screen on their hand held mobile device for long periods of time… will cause changes in the curve, supporting ligaments, tendons, and musculature, as well as the bony segments. Eventually there may be nerve involvement, muscle spasms and pain.”

So pretty soon we’re all going to be mute hunchbacks that can’t feel their fingers. Awesome. Speaking of fingers…

2. BlackBerry Thumb (aka Nintendo Thumb)

BlackBerry image via Shutterstock

BlackBerry Thumb is such a prevalent malady among businessmen and women that it has been covered everywhere from Wired to Consumer Reports. Since phones with built-in keyboards are awkward to type on using our fingers, we end up using just our thumbs. This in turn causes a repetitive strain injury, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, that results in swelling, pain, and yet more numbness.

Dr. Alan Hedge of Cornell University explained to WebMD that thumbs are the least flexible part of our hands, and there is a reason we only use them to hit the space bar on an actual keyboard:

“[The thumb] is really designed as a stabilizer for pinch gripping with a finger. That is why you only have two of them, not eight. It is the fingers that have dexterity, not the thumb. If you're trying to type War and Peace with your thumbs, then you're going to have a problem."

But BlackBerry Thumb is really just a new, hip rebranding of an older, nerdier tech injury: Nintendo Thumb. PC Magazine defined it as a “repetitive stress injury due to excessive video game playing [that] causes a swelling at the base of the thumb.”

Gamers still suffer from Nintendo Thumb, but there are even more modern ways for you to hurt yourself while playing video games.

3. Wii Wrist

Oversize Wiimote image via Shutterstock

As Nintendo invents new ways to keep us entertained, it also continues to highlight parts of our bodies that are especially fragile. After Nintendo Thumb came Wii Wrist, part of a larger group of painful “Wiinjuries.”

When the Wii first came out, there were lots of stories of individuals breaking televisions, tables, their fingers, and other people’s noses when the remote accidentally flew out of their grasp, or they weren’t paying attention and smacked their hands into things (or people). But over time those injuries lessened, mostly thanks to the wrist strap, and repetitive strain injuries and over-stretched muscles in the shoulder and wrist increased.

Even things that made the Wii more fun could impact your wrist, like the vibrating of the controller. Thankfully, wrists can be strengthened, and if you're willing to put in the time and effort, with just a few minutes a day of special wrist exercises you can be cured of your Wiinjury forever!

4. Ear Bud Oblivion

Jogger image via Shutterstock

In the old days, if you wanted to rupture your eardrums while out walking, you needed to carry around a boom box. Now, however, you can discretely listen to Adele’s dulcet tones on full blast, your tiny earbuds ensuring drivers have no idea you can’t hear them coming.

The results of a study by the University of Maryland Medical School found that thanks to the increasing use of earbuds, pedestrian accidents have tripled since 2006. And we’re not talking just broken bones here; three-quarters of the incidents covered by the study were fatal. It’s not just the fact that you can’t hear cars coming; it’s also the general distraction of the music, making you less likely to check before you cross the street, for example. We all have it drilled into our heads in kindergarten to look both ways, but just stick some tiny plastic speakers in our adult ears and we forget all about it.

It’s becoming such a problem that New York, Oregon, Virginia, and California are even considering legislation — similar to laws limiting cell phone use in cars — which would ban pedestrians and cyclists from using distracting devices like phones or iPods while crossing streets or in traffic. In 2011, a bill in Arkansas attempting to make it illegal for all pedestrians to wear two earbuds at a time was withdrawn after a huge backlash.

5. iPad Shoulder

Cell phones? Wiis? iPods? Please, those injuries are for the unwashed masses. These days, the truly elite suffer from iPad Shoulder. Because it can be used to watch movies and read books, some people spend even more time hunched over their tablet than their phone. The resulting pain is bad enough that it warranted a study by Dr. Jack Dennerlein from Harvard University, whose results were published in the prestigious Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation. He had study participants do a variety of everyday tasks on their tablets, then measured their postures with an “infrared three-dimensional motion analysis system.”

What Dr. Dennerlein found was that with tablets, you really can’t win. When viewing or reading, it's best to prop your iPad up at the most extreme angle the case allows for (even the lesser angles can be bad for your posture). But if you start typing, you need to lay it flat, since typing at an angle can cause joint pain and inflammation. One thing we can safely say at this point, though, is that any gadget you own is eventually likely to cause you some sort of joint pain and inflammation.

6. Hogwarts Headache

© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

The only non-tech malady on this list, but a modern phenomenon nonetheless: a few years ago any cool kid who could read was suffering from Hogwarts Headache. The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine actually ran a letter from a physician noting the unfortunate side effect of children reading more, and for longer periods, than they ever had in their lives. Yes, thanks to a couple extremely long (ostensibly children’s) books, an increasing number of parents brought their kids to the doctors with tension headaches. Since it is rare for children to suffer from chronic headaches like that, the doctors were stumped.

Then one pediatrician, Dr. Howard J. Bennett, finally realized that all three of the headache-ridden children he saw in one week were obsessively reading the newly released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, a book that runs to over a quarter of a million words. Two of his patients refused to stop reading at their current rate, instead opting for a prescription to dull the pain. He noted that, “In all cases, the pain resolved one to two days after the patient had finished the book.”

So far there have been no reported cases of Bella Blackouts or Twilight Torpor.

Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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