One of the most prominent themes of the 21st century so far has been that technology has been with us every step of the way, improving our quality of life at a relentless pace. Many of the things that we’ve gained through the march of technology have been obvious – supercomputers in our pockets, instant lines of communication to our friends and family regardless of where they are, instant online access to virtually the entire history of recorded music, the ability to work at home and so on.
One aspect of technology that doesn’t always get enough attention, though, is the ever-increasing selection of health gadgets that improve our lives not because they help us communicate or work more efficiently, but because they actually help us live longer and in greater comfort. As great as today’s smartphones, tablets, computers and cloud services have become, health is the field in which some of the greatest disruptions have occurred over the past two decades.
These are just a few of the health gadgets that have helped us live longer and better during the 21st century.
Do you know what the world’s leading preventable cause of death is? It’s smoking. Around the world, smoking directly or indirectly kills about 8 million people per year. It is completely unbelievable that tobacco companies around the world are still allowed to manufacture a product that kills half of its users. Until that changes, we need to be creative about finding ways to reduce the harm associated with tobacco use and find cessation methods that actually work.
In the field of tobacco harm reduction, no product in the 21st century – perhaps no product ever, in fact – has been more disruptive than e-cigarettes from companies like V2 Cigs UK. The governments of the world have mixed opinions about the value of vaping and how it should be regulated. The health service of the United Kingdom, for instance, considers switching to vaping the same as quitting and actively encourages smokers to vape. The United States considers vaping essentially the same as any other form of tobacco use. Regardless of the controversy, though, the fact is that, thanks to vaping, there are now tens of millions of people in the world who aren’t smoking right now and would be otherwise. That’s a huge win for public health.
Health Trackers and Smartwatches
How did we ever live before smartwatches? The smartwatch started out as a simple way to track the alerts received on your phone, but it quickly evolved into much more than that. Today’s smartwatches come equipped with sensors that can track an enormous variety of health parameters such as heart rate, temperature, blood glucose, blood oxygen, blood pressure and more. A smartwatch can tell you if you’re having a health emergency and need to seek medical help immediately. It can tell you if you have a possible COVID-19 infection and trace your recent contacts. It’s truly amazing that the smartwatch – a technology that didn’t even exist before the 21st century – could play a major role in slowing the spread of one of history’s most devastating pandemics.
Night Shift and Smart Lighting Systems
During the 21st century, it became common knowledge that all “white” light isn’t created equal. That fact really came to a head when gadgets like smartphones and extremely large and bright wide-screen TVs became common. More than ever, people began to spend their evenings staring at bright screens emitting light that leaned toward the blue end of the color spectrum. Sleep quality began to suffer as a result. Researchers determined that, while blue light is good for promoting alertness during the day, it also tends to disrupt our circadian rhythms and harm sleep quality.
What’s the solution for minimizing our exposure to blue light at night and improving our sleep quality? One solution is to keep away from gadgets during the evening, but that’s not always easy to do – so the tech companies of the world have some up with another solution in the form of smart home lighting systems and blue light reduction features on smartphones and PCs. By shifting your home lighting and electronic displays away from the blue end of the color spectrum at night, you’ll help to prepare your brain for sleep.
Home Gene Sequencing
Have you seen the home gene sequencing kits that are now available in seemingly every supermarket? Take a moment to appreciate how incredible that is in light of the fact that the Human Genome Project began work on sequencing the human genome in 1990 and didn’t finish the project until 2003. Today, you can get a map of your genes in a few days. Home gene sequencing isn’t just a matter of learning more about your ancestry, although that can certainly be an enlightening experience. Your genes can tell you whether you’re at risk of developing many chronic health conditions, and if you know your risks, you might make changes to help minimize those risks. Gene sequencing gives us a wealth of information that wasn’t available at all before the 21st century.
UV-based disinfection has been around for a while, and it began to increase in popularity during the 21st century as products like UV-based disinfecting wands for surfaces and UV-based water filters became more affordable for consumers. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, kicked UV and other disinfection technologies into high gear. We now have small spaces like elevators that are capable of disinfecting themselves when people aren’t present. For consumers, we have a variety of products with self-cleaning features that didn’t exist before the 21st century, ranging from self-cleaning toothbrushes to self-cleaning water bottles. Disinfection wands have also become more efficient than ever, and some people now carry them to disinfect shared surfaces like bus and subway seats.
Portable Air Quality Monitors
Poor indoor air quality is one of the world’s most insidious silent killers. Indoor air pollutants like pollen, carbon monoxide and mold are difficult or impossible to detect without electronic sensors, and there are some forms of air quality monitoring that have only recently become available to consumers on average budgets. Today, the typical smart home is equipped with an air quality monitor that can detect all of the pollutants mentioned above along with volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and more. If you’re an allergy sufferer or live in an area in which air pollution is a problem, a portable air quality monitor can be a life saver.
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