Right now, we are living in a world that, just a few short generations ago, would've looked like an episode of the Jetsons. Cellphones, the Internet, and touchless hand dryers with motion sensors are all things that would've made our early ancestors green with wondrous jealousy. Our world begins to look a bit less rosy, however, when you realize that many of our modern conveniences are actively making our lives worse, to various degrees. For example ...
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Much like a four-course meal for a death row inmate, the snooze button teaches us how precious a few extra minutes can be when you're about to do something you really don't want to do. Unfortunately, if you're a habitual user of your alarm's snooze feature, it can start to seriously interfere with your sleep cycle worse than Freddy Krueger juggling a bunch of outboard motors.
The problem is that the process of waking a human body is more complex than you might think. Each cell in your body contains a protein called PERIOD (or PER), which builds up and subsides once in every 24-hour cycle. PER is a central component of your circadian rhythm, and if you go to sleep at roughly the same time each day, your body learns when to max out this protein and activate your internal alarm. Those of you who regularly wake up a few seconds before your alarm clock goes off, congratulations! Your body is in perfect synchronization with your desired wake-up time.
But if you don't keep a regular sleep schedule (you know, the way most normal human beings don't), your body never learns the proper rhythm, and you wind up relying solely on your alarm clock to tear you from the sweet embrace of sleep. It's a tremendously unpleasant way to wake up, which makes hitting the snooze button all the more attractive. Unfortunately, the feel-good wave that washes over you as you drift back to Neverland is not all it's cracked up to be.
You see, waking up is a jarring process even when it doesn't happen by way of industrial heavy metal screaming from your iPhone. So your body eases you into wakefulness by reducing the amount of serotonin in your bloodstream and cranking out dopamine. When you hit the snooze button, not only does your body not learn the correct pattern of waking, but it also flicks the dopamine and serotonin switches on and off repeatedly. By the time you drag yourself out of bed, your brain has essentially given you an erratic series of uppers and downers, effectively turning you into a comedian from the 1980s. As a result, your brain is left slow and groggy, riding what is basically the comedown of a night of party drugs without ever having taken anything.
For many years, we humans struggled with the duality of not wanting to needlessly chop down trees to make paper towels and not wanting our hands to be coated in invisible flakes of wet human poo. Thus, the automatic hand dryer was born. On that glorious day in history, trees across the world rejoiced at their lessened chances of becoming pulp, as humans discovered the futuristic joy of having their freshly-washed hands made uncomfortably damp by a noisy machine before giving up and wiping them on their pants.
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And not only are they friendlier for the environment, but hand dryers are also more hygienic. After all, you barely have to touch an automatic hand dryer, whereas countless poop-stained fingers have groped every inch of every paper towel dispenser in creation. So by using the hand dryer, you're exposing yourself to fewer germs ... right?
Not really. Studies have found that opting for an air dryer instead of your granddaddy's paper towels can actually increase the number of germs on your hands by a staggering 255 percent. That's because your average public restroom is the perfect environment for bacteria to get together and sing Boyz II Men to each other -- it's warm, it's moist, and it's stewing in a palpable sense of shame. Consequently, all manner of microbes are coating the air intake of the hand dryer and engaging in a ferocious reenactment of Eyes Wide Shut.
When you activate the hand dryer to heat the excess water off of your meaty palms, those germs are flung through hyperspace and sprayed all over your fingertips like a microscopic shotgun. Conversely, the old-fashioned paper towel method of drying your hands results in the bacteria being wiped off and thrown into the garbage, rather than catapulted all over the front of your body.
If there were an award for Most Popped Pill, Tylenol would have a dusty china cabinet full of them. Its active ingredient (acetaminophen) is present in more medications than you can count. It also has a record for causing acute liver failure that could make Jagermeister hang its antlered head in shame. And if that wasn't terrifying enough, it seems to be capable of transforming us into a race of unfeeling drones.
Back in 2009, Nathan DeWall from the University of Kentucky authored a study demonstrating that acetaminophen eased the pain of social rejection, which is yet one more thing that it does better than Jagermeister. And that makes sense in terms of physiology, since the same neurological switchboard initiates both the pain of a stubbed toe and the shame of posting your accidental butt selfie to Facebook.
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A more recent study at Ohio State University reinforced the finding that Tylenol can alleviate psychological pain, with one big caveat: It dulls your positive emotions, too. When two groups of students -- one hopped up on acetaminophen, the other given fistfuls of placebos -- were shown images ranging from very pleasant (such as children playing with baskets of kittens) to very disturbing (such as children eating baskets of kittens), the group taking Tylenol not only ranked the painful images to be less painful, but also reported feeling less joy from the happy ones. In other words, Tylenol gradually robs you of your ability to feel anything at all.
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Bizarrely, this fogging of emotions seems to have a dulling effect on our sense of mortality as well. In a classic experiment, subjects were split into two groups and asked to set the theoretical bail for a prostitute. Participants in the first group were asked to reflect on their own mortality first, while those in the second group received no priming. The mortality-minded folks set a higher bail -- the thought of their own impending deaths apparently made them super judgmental.
When this study was repeated with acetaminophen administered to the death-minded group, everyone agreed upon a more reasonable bail for the hypothetical prostitute. It seems that lessening the sting of their mortality anxiety also lessened their need to impose their own moral beliefs onto others. So look forward to a bunch of posts on your Facebook feed ranting about how Obama is turning us all into liberals by dumping Tylenol into the water supply.
OK, you've made a New Year's resolution, and this time, you're finally going to do what it takes to get in shape and lose those extra four or five years of holiday pounds. But you can't just go to the gym and exercise in some fool T-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts. No, you need to run out and buy some specially-made high-performance fitness attire. According to the tag, the space-age fabric offers unparalleled moisture-wicking abilities to keep your profusely sweaty crack in a state of marginally reduced sweatiness. What the tag leaves out is that said fabric will also have you smelling like a dead fish in a body stocking.
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In a study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers had a mixed group of male and female volunteers work up a sweat on stationary bikes while wearing a variety of fabrics, from cotton to synthetics. Then they stuffed the still-dripping clothes into baggies and let them brew in their own nastiness for a full 24 hours, before having a "trained panel" sniff them and rate their stench levels. We imagine this is the absolute lowest rung on the ladder of research assistants.
The fancy synthetic materials touted by brands like Under Armour absolutely trounced the simple cottons in terms of pure stankability. Upon closer inspection, researchers discovered that this was due to the fact that synthetic fabric (such as polyester) provides a perfectly aerated window box for odorous bacteria to grow in. Specifically, the fancy workout clothes were teeming with the bacteria micrococci, which feeds on the fatty acids in our sweat and breaks them down into smaller, stinkier molecules.
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Scientists are working on ways to combat this, including injecting polyester clothing with antimicrobial agents like silver nanoparticles, but the EPA is concerned that such substances might have a negative effect on the environment, which is probably a good sign that you don't want them rubbing all up on your armpits while you're trying to ride a stationary bike.
The fact that people are distracted by their cellphones comes as little surprise. What might surprise you, however, is that your ability to interact with the world is diminished by your cellphone even when you're not using it. Your awareness can even be lowered by a cellphone that doesn't belong to you, as long as it's within your field of vision. This is because humans have evolved to become the most ridiculous things that have ever existed.
A recent study published in the journal Social Psychology paired a bunch of undergrad psych students at random and tasked them with completing a variety of mathematical problems. In order to adequately mess with the students, the professor performing the study walked in and out of the room, "accidentally" leaving behind either a notebook or a phone. When the professor left his phone, the students performed worse on the tests. That's right: The mere presence of a cellphone distracted them to the point of literally making them dumber. And this was no fluke -- studies consistently demonstrate that having a cellphone in view or simply hearing someone else talk on one is capable of significantly lowering our cognitive capabilities.
According to University of Southern Maine professor Bill Thornton, this is all thanks to your brain being reminded of the vast web of social media connectedness that you are currently being kept away from. Who has time for math problems when you could be checking Vin Diesel's Twitter? And who can pay attention to driving a stupid car when you just thought of a hilarious joke to text to your buddy Mike from Jamba Juice?
Surprisingly, hands-free technology, such as Bluetooth accessories or speakerphones, don't do anything to help their user's distractedness. Not only are more car crashes attributed to hands-free phone use than texting, but studies have also shown that voice-operated texting is at best no safer than typing, and at worst even more distracting. Shouting commands into a tiny plastic device like a Starfleet officer wasn't quite the romantic future we thought it would be.
It's not your imagination -- the power of your phone is commanding you to follow Vicki Veritas on Twitter.
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