Opinion

Our Computers Are Killing Us, and the Desktop Is My Last Hope

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Our Computers Are Killing Us, and the Desktop Is My Last Hope

After spending nearly half my life wrestling with computers in one form or another, I'll go out on a limb and challenge that old adage - 'a poor workman blames his tools'. In my humble opinion, a poor workman is someone who can't afford to upgrade his tools. What do I mean? That I can't take these repetitive stress injuries (RSI) from working anymore.Much of my time has been spent examining the productivity sweet spot, let me just declare that we can't send the computer mouse to the grave soon enough. Sure, you can get an expensive one with teflon coated feet, make it glide on a hard mat, and still end up with fatigued hands. At one point, all my former colleagues sported callouses on their wrists. I've heard of people who quit their jobs because they couldn't handle the pain from RSI. My two cents to knowledge workers in their early twenties: don't wait for it to get bad before you take measures.

I've had my share of RSI-related ailments in the past, they've made FPS and RTS games a spectator sport for me. Not that I think trackpads and touch-based input are any orders of magnitude better. Trackpads are a poor substitute, especially if you have to do graphics editing on it. How much longer do we have to wait before we get Minority Report-style computing yet? I for one would love to scroll Web pages and documents by waving gestures in thin air.

But as much as I despise the mouse and the carpal tunnel syndrome that flares up every time I use it too often, there's a place for the desktop PC in a techie's arsenal. In most Indian cities, power cuts make desktop PCs hugely unpopular in comparison to contemporary laptops that have an 8-10 hour battery life. But a desktop PC has its charms - a full-size keyboard with a numeric pad makes accounting and math tasks easier. Every part can be upgraded, making its lifecycle much longer than a laptop. With repairability ratings for most mobile devices going down the toilet, a desktop might be the best investment you make. A laptop seems suboptimal from an ergonomic standpoint, in comparison. With the screen hinged to the keyboard - the head and body is usually bent and hunched over. The ideal sitting stance would have the viewing angle of the display on the same plane as the head.

(Also see: Tablets Aren't Killing Laptops - Laptop Manufacturers Are Killing Laptops)

The human body wasn't really built to be planted on a chair for long periods of time - research says that sitting is the new smoking, contributing to increased risk of breast and colon cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Even staring too long at the screen is bad for the body - there's an app called Time Out that mitigates eye-strain by taking over the screen every 10 minutes, advising you to take a quick break.

Standing desks make for better a workstation setup - there's an inexpensive Ikea hack that makes for a $22 standing desk, with a bit of jugaad you can make a similar setup on the cheap with a cardboard box.

Ultimately, there aren't any permanent fixes to cope with RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome. The best you can do is take regular breaks, learn keyboard shortcuts, switch the mouse from one hand to another every few hours, and invest in a good workstation setup - if you're getting a computer chair, make sure it has neck and lumbar support, apart from adjustable elbows and height. Now if you would kindly Paypal me my two cents, I'll save it in my Emperor 200 trust fund.

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