Have you ever spent 36 hours typing on a laptop?
I have. Recently, while finishing a novel, I spent 36 hours straight working on a laptop computer. I typed all day, worked all night and typed all day again until about 2:45 p.m.
When I was done, I was experiencing a strange numbness and swelling in my forearms and hands. I was also feeling as strange, hot, tingling sensation in my upper back, especially after I sneezed. Of course, I also had a terrible, pounding headache, but that's because I stayed awake and worked for 36 hours straight.
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Bad as it is for you to do just about anything for 36 hours straight, a laptop has just about the least ergonomic keyboard you can find. Most of us are aware of the need for an ergonomic keyboard on a desktop PC, but increasingly, we are using mobile technology. Be it laptops, notebooks, PDAs or wireless phones, we're actually devolving in our approach to technological ergonomics. It does you absolutely no good to have a nice, ergonomic desktop if you spend all your time typing on the tiny keyboard of a Blackberry or the larger, square, completely uncomfortable keyboard of your notebook computer.
AME Info, Middle East business resource, has proclaimed mobility and ergonomics the most important office considerations in the United Arab Emirates. Citing the fact that "many office workers now use a laptop and handheld device to conduct the majority of business throughout the day," AME Info says these workers are demanding "a more flexible working environment to better suit their needs." In other words, they want workstations where they can use their laptops and yet not experience the cool, minty sensation of numb forearms.
HP and Microsoft, according to an April Fool's joke perpetrated by Doug Aamoth, have teamed up on a "natural" ergonomic keyboard in a notebook package. (Now if only it wasn't an HP.) The split keyboard makes typing easier and more comfortable, the fake story goes, though it does take up more space. The joke is funny because the reality isn't.
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As a boy I received an original Nintendo game system as a gift and quickly became obsessed with a specific action game. Those of you who remember the original Nintendo will remember that the game controllers were simple rectangles with a four-way direction pad on one side and a couple of buttons on the other. You would have to go out of your way to invent a control that was less ergonomic than this one. I mean, you would actually have to work hard to find a way to make a game control hurt more. After spending far too much time playing the game "Contra," in which tiny commandos breach a series of alien fortresses (truly a groundbreaking game for its day), I developed a very bad case of "Nintendo thumb" – extreme soreness in the thumbs caused by that game controller.
The average laptop is about as ergonomic as those old Nintendo controls. Tips abound on the Internet for how to position yourself, your laptop, your keyboard, your monitor, your mouse, your keyboard, and a variety of pads to support your wrists and so on, all in an effort to make the use of technology more ergonomic. The fact is, however, that laptops are designed for computing while on the go. They were never intended to replace the desktop PC, even though they're doing just that. This means the small, square, uncomfortably positioned keyboards and screens on your laptop just will never be that good for you. As for the tiny keypad on your Blackberry or cell phone, combined with its miniscule screen, well, forget about ever making that comfortable.
The potential negative health consequences to any long-term activity that entails poor ergonomics range from back pain, neck pain, muscle aches and strains, and similar issues to numbness, tendonitis, repetitive strain injury and a variety of other ills. This is not so much a function of the technology in our lives, however, as is of our obsessive overuse of that technology. To put it another way, if you use it in moderation, most anything can be comfortable. If you use it to excess, just about anything can become painful.
One recent study found that adult Americans spend an average of eight hours a day in front of screens, including televisions and computers. The same average American spend s a whopping five hours a day in front of the television alone. Clearly, we are becoming more and more technology dependent and ever-more connected to (and dependent on) the devices that allow us to stay that way. What we must learn, and what we must keep always in mind when using consumer technology is that too much of any technology can lead to serious physical injury.