Tablet PCs Becoming a Pain in the Neck

Way back in 1969 when I started work out the mine in my home town as a Stores Clerk there was this wise old storeman there who I became very friendly with. He had this saying that he said at least once a day in relation to something he was doing or had done previously and it went something like this (and I have left out the “F” word colourisations) “Everything you do there will always be something that goes wrong about a month later”.

Later on when I got transferred to their computer department in the city I managed to work my way up (after three years of night school) into the highly regarded ‘god like’ Systems Programming team on the CDC Cyber mainframe computers. One of the members of that team had a very similar but more computer related saying: “There is an unintended downside to everything—you just don’t know when it is going to show itself”. He was referring mainly to updates and changes to computer configurations or program code, but, in this much more technical environment, it meant much the same as the storeman’s saying.

Well it seems the rule that “there is an unintended downside to everything” applies to Tablet PCs, and I am including the iPad in this even though Apple say they do not like the iPad being referred to as a Tablet PC.

NotebookDock1The problem that is appearing is much the same as the well known health issues relating to people who use notebook computers for long periods of time without setting them up correctly. In companies, where they have highly paid Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) officers, users who use notebooks in the office are provided with a docking station, screen, keyboard, and mouse kit. So when they use their notebook at work they dock it into the docking station and, click, in one move it connects up to the associated power supply, screen, keyboard, and mouse.

Companies do this is because the heath issues resulting from using a notebook for long periods, such as over and eight hour day, are well known and well documented.

NotebookDock2Using an undocked notebook just plonked down on a desk well eventually result in one or more of: eye fatigue, headaches, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and possibly OOS (occupation overuse syndrome, or what used to be known as RSI) in the lower arms, wrists, or fingers. This happens because an untethered notebook causes even the most attentive user to lapse into seriously bad posture with shoulders forward, back arched forward, neck bent and weight of head forward of the centre balance line, eye-balls always down, eyes straining (screen too close or too far away), arms either unrested or over-extended (causing muscle fatigue), and a number of other ergonomic concerns I can’t recall.

I have a notebook computer issued for work and when I am at work it is docked. When I use it at home it is connected to a KVM (keyboard, video, and mouse switch) so it works via my ergonomically set up home screen, keyboard, and mouse.

So. Back to Tablet PCs.

The problem is that using a Tablet PC ‘forces’ users into a similar bad ergonomic situation to that of using a notebook. Shoulders forward, head forward, and neck bent. Even worse for people trying use them in bed because of the positions they have get themselves into and force themselves to hold for long periods of time.

When I was about 30-ish I developed OOS back when it was still called RSI (repetitive strain injury) and I can tell you it is horrid. The thing with RSI is that it sort of suddenly dawns on you one day that you have it. For me it didn’t gradually develop—one day I just had it. Obviously, in reality, it does gradually build up and doesn’t happen overnight, but you don’t detect the build up. At least I didn’t. And then one day your wrists and arms just hurt so much more to the point where using a knife and fork is painful, opening a car door is painful, and doing up buttons on a shirt is agony—I can attest to this from first-hand knowledge.

The big problem with RSI or OOS is that the ‘recovery’ (although you never actually ever totally get rid of it, at least I never have) takes years.

So, if you use a Tablet PC or iPad for long-ish periods of time, watch out for this unintended long-term downside and health professionals are advising not to use these devices holding them while laying in bed. If you ‘need’ to use them in bed then have them self-supported somehow on a bedside table or the like. I remember seeing somewhere that you can buy a floor-standing adjustable arm that will hold the Tablet PC suspended over you laying in bed. But seriously, does anyone really go to these extremes to use a Table PC in bed?