Sabotage in the Age of Modernity – technology, intended to support our development, is now causing us harm

There is arguably no worse form of sabotage than that which humanity inflicts upon itself today. As a species, we are evolutionarily adapted to conditions that accompanied our ancestors for hundreds of thousands of years. Naturally, there are deviations we can tolerate, much like any animal that might feel slightly worse under unfavorable conditions – be it higher temperatures, a smaller herd than usual, or having to hunt second or third-choice prey. However, placing a zebra in a Siberian forest, camels in the Błędowska Desert, a pike in a pond, or a blue whale in the Baltic Sea would undoubtedly end poorly for them. Yet, for several decades, we have been doing something similar to ourselves.

Physical Activity

A few decades ago, the average person in the West moved quite frequently. They did not just walk but also performed many tasks that today require practically no effort. Now, our smartphones have so many functions that we do not even need to leave our desks to use a calculator, a flashlight, a voice recorder, or to log into our bank accounts. The number of calories burned must be lower. Remember, our ancestors spent a significant part of their lives doing physical work, and even earlier, in prehistoric times, they were additionally forced to move, hunt, process food from scratch, and prepare sleeping areas. Now, almost everything is at the flick of a finger.

Let us consider lighting. Today, it is a matter of pressing a switch on the wall. Some do not even need to get up from the couch, thanks to remote controls. Two hundred years ago, people needed to maintain candles, replace them, light them, extinguish them, and light them again. It might not seem like many calories burned, but when you add up other activities and sum them up over a year, it results in a few kilograms of pure fat. If we are not physically active, do not ride bikes, walk, avoid swimming pools or other activities, we inevitably gain weight. And although the mechanisms behind the obesity epidemic are more complex, they are fundamentally rooted in this change.

The well-known Body Mass Index (BMI), except in special cases, serves as an excellent tool for assessing whether someone is overweight or obese. Overweight is defined as a BMI between 25 and 29.9, with higher values indicating obesity.

Apart from Italy, there is no country where half or more of the population is healthy in this regard. These are pre-pandemic figures, but partial measurements have shown that the situation has worsened. Eurostat studies also reveal that overweight and obesity are much more common among people with lower education and earnings. It is hard not to see obesity as a class issue. For centuries, it was a marker of the wealthy’s status; now, more affluent individuals are increasingly likely to be slimmer and more muscular. The costs of the mass epidemic of overweight and obesity are huge, both individually, socially, and economically.

Physical activity was once a necessity. Now, a significant amount of exercise has to be self-imposed. This is associated with internal pressure and can lead to feelings of guilt, which in excess are harmful in themselves. The spiral of such feelings, in the context of body mass and regulating emotions in this way, is a component of the obesity problem, as seen in studies and interestingly depicted in the excellent series “This is Us.”

The fact that we do not move if we do not have to is completely natural. We evolved in an environment where energy had to be conserved, not spent on a whim. Except for extreme cases of laziness, generally, it is not our fault that we do not feel like moving, and we should not feel guilty about it. Similarly, this applies when we blame ourselves for choosing to watch a series or play a video game instead of reading a book. Anger or frustration due to unfulfilled intentions regarding our physical and mental activities should be directed at the system that is set up against our human biology, psychology, and ecology.

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What does the average supermarket look like today? Cookies, chocolates, and chips are typically found in several spots we pass during shopping, as are ready-made meals. Even if someone has strong willpower, they are exposed to temptations numerous times a day. Giving in to these temptations is in our nature – for hundreds of thousands of years, such opportunities could even decide the survival of a family or tribe. Anyone who claims they have never been swayed by such aggressive placement of chips, hamburgers, pizzas, or cookies is likely fooling themselves.

The average caloric requirement for a man is about 2500-3000 kcal per day, and slightly less for a woman. The average daily consumption in Europe is close to 3500 kcal. Excess energy accumulated over the years is stored as fat.

For Courage, For Company

Let us talk about alcohol. I am not saying it is inherently bad. Historically and civilization-wise, the culture of drinking could have even helped to mitigate conflicts at various levels. But today, alcohol can be purchased almost everywhere. Even at gas stations, including in the form of unfortunate small bottles. Moreover, somehow alcohol can be advertised, which is surprising, considering the quite rational and justified ban on advertising cigarettes or prescription medications. While in the past, drinking was limited to specific holidays or rituals, how many people drink without these constraints? Each of us has, more or less directly, encountered the consequences of alcohol-related problems.

Social Relationships

Today’s cities are filled with lonely people spending their afternoons in front of smartphones and computer screens, arguing for hours on social media, writing about how well they are doing alone. These are people who are genuinely sad, angry, and often desperate. They have no one to go to the movies with, to party with, or to take a trip out of town.

There is an increasing number of people who interpret ordinary gestures as attacks. What about those who grew up during the pandemic and lockdowns? Humans are a social species. We evolved in groups and cannot function normally in isolation. We need meetings, conversations, jokes, fun, social rituals, both close and distant ties, touch, and eye contact. No tech corporation selling products that pull people away from human interaction in favor of technology will ever prove otherwise, because it simply is not true. Yet, we allow tech giants to interfere so deeply in our lives that technology, instead of serving us, has become a tool to exploit us. We are the source of algorithms used to profit from us.

Scientific studies and observations, as well as the life experiences of millions, unequivocally prove that the main cause of the epidemic of mental health problems is social isolation. It is all due to the lack of close and distant ties and the commercialization of various aspects of life. How can people who do not go out, do not spend time in groups, or among friends, do not have partners, and do not form families, not have mood disorders or anxiety disorders? We need all these interactions for the well-being of our psyche just as we need vitamin C for collagen production, vitamin B12 for blood cell formation, or protein to build muscles!

Hearing calls for opening more counseling centers, psychiatric hospitals, or psychotherapy centers, it is hard to understand the blindness to the causes of the mental health crisis. Increasing the number of psychiatrists and psychotherapists in this case is like trying to put out a fire with a glass of water. By creating a world where forming relationships is no longer obvious and natural, we are defeating ourselves. Perhaps instead of focusing on treatment, we should create and restore circumstances in which people meet and experience life for real, not through social media. Where do they form relationships with people, instead of feeding devices with their clicks for hours?


Undoubtedly, apart from eating, moving, meeting people, and forming bonds, we also need a roof over our heads. It is hard not to recognize this need as one of the most fundamental. Yet, the prices of apartments are so absurdly high that they are difficult to compare to anything. The cost of rent is also disproportionately high and, in the long term, completely inefficient. Why do we do this to ourselves? Or rather, who is doing this to us?

Demographers, sociologists, and politicians lament the very low birth rates. It is as bad as it has ever been before in the history of Europe. Currently, the fertility rate in the European Union is below 1.5 children per woman. In Poland, it is even worse. Meanwhile, the replacement fertility rate is about 2.15 children per woman of childbearing age. Sociological studies from all European countries show that women would like to have more children than they do, a phenomenon we call the fertility gap. The question is, where and how to raise these children with the current unavailability of housing and lack of employment stability on one hand, and the aggressive media narrative attacking parenthood at the cultural level on the other?

Life has never been as comfortable and safe as it is in contemporary Europe. Despite the economic crisis, the war in Ukraine and Israel, and the rise in crime in metropolises, we are luckier than any of the previous generations. But instead of taking advantage of this, we sabotage our well-being with various key details.

Translation: Klaudia Tarasiewicz

Published by

Łukasz Sakowski


Lukasz Sakowski is a biologist, journalist and science blogger. He is a biology graduate, co-founder of the Polish March for Science, and organizer of the plebiscite for Biological Nonsense of the Year. He covers scientific, biological and social topics, among others. He writes for many Polish newspapers and portals.

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