Computing Less "Backbreaking"
By Jim Bray
If sitting in front
of the computer is a real pain in the neck for you, a high tech workstation
may be just what the chiropractor ordered.
Ergonomics isn't usually
a hot topic with me, but I've been doing some contract work where "worker
comfort" means you stack a couple of packages of printer paper to raise
your monitor to a more functional height.
I thought my home
office was an ergonomic nightmare until I saw this place. Not only are
there monitor-induced neck pains, but the desk is "configured" so you
have to sit perched like a squirrel holding a nut in its front paws to
use the keyboard. While this may be cute, it certainly isn't the best
way to type or use a mouse.
Systems Corp. is offering a high tech solution to this type of "terminal
a nifty "womblike workstation" it would like you to believe is the perfect
antidote for crossed eyes, sore backs and stiff wrists - and office angst
in general. Its M1 Workstation does this by clustering computer components
around you, rather than just dumping you in front of the monitor and turning
The M1 is a metallically-handsome
unit that looks kind of like a strange, Darwinian cross between a dentist's
chair, a first class airline seat, and one of those big loungers into
which Keannu Reeves plugged his neck in the science fiction movie "The
For your (or, better
still, your boss's) $1995US investment, you can relax into a reclining,
"breathable mesh" chair that comes complete with adjustable headrest,
footrest, and armrest, as well as keyboard and monitor platforms you can
adjust in three dimensions to place them just where you want them.
I haven't actually
used one of these doohickeys long enough to - presumably - fall in love
with it, but I managed to pry my seat into one at a recent trade show
and was impressed. The only thing missing was a big flat area - like a
conventional desktop - on which you can pile all your papers and other
Oh, sure, Microsphere
makes an optional "secondary cabinet" that comes complete with a bunch
of drawers, a printer/fax area, "pullout storage device," and a slide
out phone surface - for executives who actually answer their calls rather
than forward everyone to the Purgatory of voice mail - and there's also
an optional "writing surface" that moves out over your keyboard.
surfaces aren't big enough for my sloppy ways and I reckon I'd run out
of room in about five seconds; right now, I have about twenty five square
feet of flat desktop in my home office and it's generally piled about
three feet high with junk.
Then again, perhaps
if I had to get by with less space I might actually get organized
One nice feature about
the M1 Workstation is that it can help you organize your cables, with
hose-like tubes through which you pass the wiring. Most people will probably
like being able to get their wires tucked safely out of the way, though
it wouldn't work for me because I'm always adding and changing computer
components and need easy access to what has unfortunately become a rat's
nest of cables and/or connectors.
A possible downside
to the M1 is its reasonably substantial entry price, though it could be
argued that the workstation is no more expensive than many conventional
desks. Besides, Microsphere says it's actually a cheap investment once
you factor in the improved productivity and reduced sick time you get
from happy and comfy workers - and it's an argument that makes some sense.
To back up their claims,
Microsphere claims Liberty Mutual spent $50 millionUS in 1998 on "wrist
claim injuries" it attributes to "cumulative trauma disorders" (CTD's)
exacerbated by keyboard use.
So when you hit up
the boss for an M1, you can argue you're doing the company a favor, thereby
scoring brownie points while you push for better working conditions!
The only thing that
could work against you is that you may be so comfortable in the M1 that
you'll spend as much time napping as working - and if you need to get
up to retrieve something from your filing cabinet you might not bother
-thereby not getting any work done.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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