If you work or study with a computer – and the chances nowadays are pretty high – you may have had regular wrist pain, neck ache, shoulder pain, back pain or even foot pain. The resulting pain and discomfort would lead many people to the door of their family doctor or health care provider. The recorded diagnosis would be scattered among many distinct and different domains ranging from dorsalgia (back pain), to RSI (repetitive stress injury) to dry eye syndrome and so on. There is no clearly common thread that ties all these disparate symptoms together. Herein lies the problem. If we can’t tie it together we will not identify the common cause.
When looking at the average office worker and in today’s world that includes many including doctors, nurses and reception staff in health care facilities who spend a large proportion of their time relatively immobile in front of a computer. It is not rocket science to work out that our relatively immobile position is likely to be a key causative factor that ties all these problems together.
For example, at times our necks are held very still as we read what is on the screen causing neck and shoulder pain later in the day. Our eyes dry more because our blink rates drop as we stare at the screen and our natural tears are not spread as regularly over our eyes. In some this leads to repeated sty’s or eyelash infections as the anti-bacterial properties of our tears are not being properly harnessed. Our backs hurt as we are riveted to the screen and don’t move our backs at all many minutes if not hours at a time. Our feet stay in an awkward position as we forget to move and then we wonder why we have foot pain when we hobble away from our chairs.
So what shall we call this problem? No particular term exists in the medical text books to describe this, so I have decided to coin one: dysergonomia – from the suffix dys as in dysfuntional and ergonomics: “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system” (Wikipedia).
So what can Microsoft do to help?
We need to encourage all of us to move more. Even if it is a short break or what is known as a microbreak. Just as our computer screens have the power capture our attention and eyeballs they also have the power to break that attention by asking us to take a microbreak. An opensource example of such software is present at workrave.org. The software lives in your taskbar and reminds you to take microbreaks from time to time. A simple idea that is likely to go a significant way in reducing dysergonomia.
Open source software is something that large institutions are reluctant to incorporate into their local machines and networks due to security concerns. This is where we need leadership from the industry giants such as Microsoft. The human health case for making such software widely available is strong. It should be a standard requirement for all computer systems. Something that is as widely used as Microsoft Windows is one of the best candidates to kick start this.
Just as seat belts have become standard safety feature in our cars I strongly believe it is time for giants of industry to make tackling dysergonomia one of their highest priorities. Microsoft are you listening?