Who buys a desktop anymore? Laptops outsell desktops, they are almost as powerful, more flexible, are with us at home, at work, on the road, in the air, in bed, in the hot tub ( see update at the bottom), and finally they don’t look ugly at home. I haven’t had a desktop for 8 years now.
And now I am about to take a huge step back… going against a trend. Why? It’s simple: laptops are unhealthy. Well, that’s an understatement. They are crippling us. It’s really simple, says the Harvard Medical School:
“When the keyboard is in the proper position for the wrist, the screen is not in an adequate position for the neck and vice versa. Using a laptop is a trade off between poor neck/head posture and poor hand/wrist posture.”
“In “A”, the laptop is too high and distant, with the user’s arms raised and outstretched, resulting in unnecessary fatigue in the shoulders, neck, back, forearms and hands. In “B”, the user has the laptop in the lap, which facilitates good arm position, but the user’s head is dropped, causing muscle tension in the back, neck, shoulders and chest. In “C”, the laptop is on a “standard” surface that is too low and close for comfortable viewing, and too high for upper body comfort. Notice that the hands are higher than the elbows, the wrists are resting on the edge of the worksurface, and the low back is not supported. This position increases risk for injury to the neck, back, elbows, and wrists.” - explains Working Well Ergonomics
There’s only one way a laptop can be ergonomically correct: by raising the screen (i.e. the entire laptop) on a stand / docking station and using an external keyboard at a proper position. I’ve seriously considered doing just that.
But all that gadgetry is quite expensive and I’d still be limited to a 15.4″screen (anything bigger is a brick to carry), while standalone wide-screen LCD’s are much larger, crisper, and really inexpensive today… so I am about to buy a desktop system basically for the screen.
Have you tried buying a flat screen recently? Not all models are ergonomic (in fact most aren’t) and it’s close to impossible to find out online – you have to touch it live. You get data like analog / digital, all the inputs, aspect ratio, brightness, contrast ratio, response time, and the like, but hardly any site selling LCD monitors tells you if they are vertically adjustable. That should be priority #1. As LCD screens become fashion objects, they are getting lower and lower – many stand so low, that they are hardly any higher than a laptop screen. That’s ridiculous. Look at the chart above – clearly, the only ergonomic screens are those with variable height (unless you want to put your old Encyclopedia Britannica to good use as a screen stand).
Of course I won’t be glued to my desk all the time, so I will still have to fall back to the laptop. This is where the Web comes to help. In the past, switching from my default computer required a bit of preparation: moving my Outlook.pst files and several other essentials, updating settings, old programs ..etc. Since I ditched most of my desktop applications and am using a combination of Gmail and Zoho apps, this is no longer an issue – I’m no longer tied to any physical computer, both my data and applications are identical, no matter where I access them. So, in a somewhat roundabout way, Office 2.0 improves my health
Ergonomic desktops, here I come!
P.S. I was contemplating all this when I found BL Ochmans post. Thanks for collecting all the information!
Update: OK, that hot-tub usage above isn’t that rare after all. I barely posted this and now I am reading Robert Scoble typing away from the beach at Cabo while his wife is at the spa! Robert, get off your computer! There are things like .. the sun, the ocean, the hot tub, the pool to enjoy (hm should I mention the poolside bar?)
Update (7/23): What you put your computer on also matters. See desk buying advice at Web Worker Daily.
Update (8/6/08): Gotta love this by Assaf:
You see, the most expensive piece of hardware to maintain is the one I run: eyes, back, fingers. It’s very, very, expensive to repair, and it requires a lot of downtime. So that’s the first TCO on my mind when purchasing a new computer.
Update (810/08): Opinion: Why laptops will kick desktop PCs to the curb