If there’s a single moment that symbolises the beginning of conscious computing, it probably happened in 2007, when Linda Stone, a Silicon Valley executive with 16 years’ experience at Microsoft and Apple, followed her doctor’s advice to take a course in Buteyko breathing, a Russian technique used to treat asthma and stress. The day afterwards, sitting down at her computer to check her email, she noticed – now that the topic of breathing was on her mind – that she was holding her breath.
Over the following days, she realised it was a habit; later, after conducting a research project involving more than 200 people, she estimated that around 80% of us unconsciously do the same. (She labelled the condition “email apnea”, though it’s no less common during other forms of web use.) Breath-holding, not surprisingly, deprives the body of oxygen, seems to exacerbate the “fight-or-flight” response and contributes, as Stone puts it, to “a sense of being in high alert at all times”.