Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Importance of Being Ergonomic

The portability of laptops renders them handy machines. When you need or want to take your video games, social networks, or (*gasp!*) work outside your house, laptops make sure that you can do so.

When all is said and done, though, it would seem that portability is all that laptops have going for them. In most cases, their laptop parts aren’t as powerful as desktop ones, decreasing their functionality comparatively. The diminished power of their laptop components is a necessary loss these computers must live with if they are to retain their main selling point: Portability.

Another important attribute that laptops have to sacrifice is ergonomics. Ergonomics as a scientific concept delves into the interaction between humans and elements of any given system, and how best to streamline the interfacing between the two. For our purposes though, we can simplify it as thus: Ergonomics means how comfortable a user’s condition is when using his computer.

Since desktops are chained to a wall socket anyway, manufacturers have designed them to be as comfortable to use as possible. Keyboards, mouse devices, and monitors are all separate components from the main desktop tower so that users may adjust their placement accordingly: Monitors at the appropriate eye level, and keyboards and mice spaced evenly apart and well away from the monitor so that they can be as close as comfortably possible to the user.

The corresponding laptop components, however, have to be bunched all together just like the other laptop parts: The keyboard’s keys are often spaced too closely together, a touchpad is used in lieu of a mouse which actually limits a pointer’s dynamic movement range, and the monitor is no other than the upper half of the laptop, placed too closely to the keyboard.

Another ergonomic problem of laptops is that on most of them, the screen is too small for comfort, straining users’ eyes after long periods of computer use.

So, what to do when you fancy using your laptop in a stationary location for extended periods? Here are four general guidelines when going about this:

 1.  Make its setup (how you place it on a surface, that is) as close as possible to your preferred desktop ergonomics setting.

2. Make sure your wrists are in as natural a position as possible when using your laptop’s keyboard. 

3. Adjust the screen accordingly to minimize craning your neck to get the best possible visual angle. This entails considerations regarding the screen’s position, its viewing angle, and the level of color contrast that won’t force you to squint. 

4. Be at your most relaxed. This means that ultimately, it’s the laptop that should adjust to your body’s comfort level, and not the other way around.

There are many ways to fine tune laptop ergonomics. If you can afford it, you may want to invest in a laptop docking station. If you don’t have the budget for that, you can just buy a mouse to relieve yourself of the rigors of touchpad usage. You can also add a separate keyboard after your mouse purchase if you still have enough cash, so that you can treat the laptop as a separate monitor altogether, with the keyboard and mouse acting as equally separate components.

And if all else fails, compromise with a bias towards your wrists. That is, your back and neck muscles (the ones you use to swivel your head around) can actually take much more punishment than your wrists.

Mileage may vary between users, but the goal remains the same: Being comfy with laptop usage for as long as possible.


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