Gadget ergonomics

Mobile screen horrors? (cc: Wikipedia)
Mobile screen horrors? (cc: Wikipedia)

Short note on one of my pet hates as an active gadget geek: bad ergonomics. One could suppose that as the number and average active hours use of various computing and communication devices has gone up, the ergonomics should be getting better, to make this equation feasible. This is not happening, I am afraid. Sure, if you compare the top-of-the-line desktop workstation to the miserable situation in the early 1990s, as you were trying to survive with that crappy monitor and an early mouse that got stuck all the time, then there is some real progress. You might be working with dual (triple) monitor setup, with high refresh rates, chrystal clear IPS/retina displays, with multiple input devices that are sensibly positioned and ideally placed on a motorized, ergonomic table that you tweak to the optimal configuration with the help of an ergonomics professional. In the office. But, as we all know, working hours spent peacefully in your office are getting precious. We are on the move, and it is the ergonomics of the mobile devices that we should really be concerned about. Stanford University, for example, has published this health and safety guide for mobile device use in work. Though, when the first recommendation is to use a proper office chair wheneven using a laptop computer, the impossiblity of the entire situation becomes clear. Laptops, tablets and smartphones are used in trains, busses, aeroplanes and in all kinds of extemporized working environments – also regularly while running from a meeting to another, under the increasingly time-constrained schedules of today. The tiny screens and awkward positions needed to input anything into them are not making our necks, eyes or wrists very happy. It is possible that natural language interfaces, using some kind of subvocalizing so as not to draw attention to the speech interactions in public spaces — or possibly gesture recognition and augmented reality, semi-transparent displays are the answer. What is certain, is that the questions for our, and the future generation’s health are still there, unanswered.

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.