Hypochondriacs won't need reminding that when it comes to spreading diseases the rat has got nothing on the computer mouse. Spend too long at the keyboard and you run the risk of Repetitive Strain Injury, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tensosynovitis, De Quervain's Disease, Presbyopia and enough equally distressing ailments to keep Casualty on the air until well into the next century.
But that's only half the story: new technology, it seems, can also seriously damage your mental health. Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS), for example, is the latest epidemic to strike those who have recklessly spent too long at a computer. According to a Reuters report, "information overload", exacerbated by the Internet, is responsible for a third of stress-related illness in the work place. It accounts for 30 million lost working days and costs British industry up to Pounds 2 billion a year. The author of the report told The Daily Telegraph that "the information superhighway is becoming like the M25 and people are getting e-mail rage like road rage because they cannot find the information they need, when they need it".
In an ideal world, we'd protect children from such horrors for as long as we possibly could: schools would be blissful havens of sanity, information-free zones, where all the computers would carry government health warnings. Dickens's Hard Times would be a compulsory text - not for pupils, but for parents and politicians who constantly need convincing that there is more to education that Gradgrind's facts, facts, facts. Schools, however, are expected to prepare children for the rigours of adult life and so the best way to immunise them against IFS is to subject them to frequent but manageable doses of raw data.
Carel Press's Fact File 97 provides an almost painless way of doing so. It consists of 150 photocopiable worksheets in a stout binder, packed with a vast range of statistics, graphs, diagrams and suchlike, arranged in 34 sections and covering a fascinating range of subjects. It comes complete with teachers' notes and an indispensable collection of useful addresses - of both the e-mail and snail mail variety. The data is also available on disc so teachers and pupils can play around with it and adapt it to their particular needs.
Carel has gone to a remarkably wide range of impeccable sources to winkle out the kind of information that children are likely to find interesting - and which teachers will want to drop casually into dinner party conversations. Did you know, for instance, that Britain doesn't make the international top ten when it comes to recycling, literacy, or car ownership? But it does for military spending, rates of imprisonment, inflation, unemployment and drinking tea? We can claim to be world leaders in only one area: we have the highest percentage of employees who work more than 48 hours a week.
Children will discover that on average girls get more pocket money than boys - but have got almost no chance of making it to the top of the legal profession. They might even appreciate the detailed breakdown of the expense involved in rearing a child. The six years in primary school, for example cost mum andor dad a terrifying Pounds 32,437 (which includes Pounds 1 for the tooth fairy). Children can find out how much various professions earn, and what it costs to keep the Royal family in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Used properly, they will learn that it isn't facts, facts, facts that are important but the conclusions that can be drawn from them.
Hypochondriacs will naturally worry that Fact File 97 might be contributing to information overload. But they will, at least, be relieved to find that, in the grim section on fatalities there is no mention of IFS.
Fact File 97, Pounds 37.50. Disc for Apple, Acorn or PC, Pounds 14.95 (but Pounds 29.95 and Pounds 12.50 respectively if you subscribe for annual updates). Carel Press, 01228 38928