You and Your Computer

09 July 2008, by A. Cedilla

1 of a series

You hustle, endure the daily grind, work. Your data is safe, you had a little fun playing around inside your head with your plans for eventual world domination (even if it’s just a very small bit of the globe), and preen complacently as things move into the beautifully orchestrated flow you’ve always wished for, even if it just for now. You’re above petty worries of the moment.

Except you have a nagging headache and see little sparkly things the corner of your dry, sandy eyes.

Hurt anywhere else lately?

Many computer users aren’t trained to use their tools properly. You get your computer, plug it in and turn it on, then it’s “Oh, cool, it works, let’s do this!” Off you go. Time passes and you take it as a given when you have a headache, or your fingers feel a little tingly after some time –alright, a lot of time– at the computer. The back pain, the dry eyes, they’re all part of the package. It’s normal.

It’s not. Really, it isn’t. Pain is your body telling you that something is off. The more you ignore it, the worse it can get. And the longer you ignore it, the more damage can accumulate. Sometimes it ends in surgery and rehab, when just a little bit more of research can save you from that. Don’t wait for the tingly feeling to become a burning thrum. That tingly feeling can already mean there’s damage. Repetitive stress injury is no joke.

Point: Check your mouse-side shoulder. Bet you it’s tense and creeping up by your neck. Ha!

This is the first article of a series on healthy computing, use-related injuries, identification and prevention. Of course, you can always go straight to Healthy Computing, it’s a good source of information, but we’ve covered a lot of ground for you. You can also check the resource list at the end of each article.

Originally this article was supposed to cover time-savers and short-cuts on your computer, because who doesn’t want more time? So we trawled the Internet for ways you can save some wear and tear on you and your PC, any way you can use that won’t sacrifice quality work or too much of your time, letting you spend it on more vital matters, like your kids. Kit-building. Or golf. We”ll throw those things in too, somehow. Time-saving tips, not golf.

Rule 1: Take a break.

The first asset of computing is you, not the computer. Work is work, yeah, but crippling yourself bit by bit shouldn’t even be an option on the table.

  • If it hurts, stop.
  • If it keeps hurting even after you stopped, go see a doctor.
  • Don’t keep working in the same position that hurt you in the first place.
  • Don’t keep working with the same equipment in the same way that hurt you, either.
  • Take a break. Blink, for crying out loud.
  • Unkink yourself. Stretch. Go to the bathroom. Do you know people can get UTI’s from holding it in for too long?
  • To reduce eyestrain, follow the 20/20/20 rule. Use an egg-timer.

Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to focus on something 20 feet away. Or close your eyes for 20 seconds, at least every 30 minutes or even more frequently.

No egg-timer? Can’t tear your self away from the monitor? There’s free software available for download that interrupts you — on purpose. You can program some of them to lock your keyboard and prevent you from working, setting in the duration of the break and frequency.

Try out any of the following programs; see which one fits you best:

RSI Break for Linux users. Aside from micro-pause pop-ups, to remind you when to take a break, RSIBreak also records how much time you’ve has been active and idle.

Workrave – for GNU/Linux and Microsoft Windows. Workrave is currently available in nine languages. Danish, Dutch, English, German, Polish and Spanish among them.

Xwrits – prompts you to take wrist breaks. A window pops up when you should rest; you click on that window, then you take a break. Designed for Unix systems:BSD, Linux, Solaris, and so forth.

Reference sites:

Safecomputingtips – designed to help you be more comfortable and productive while using your computer.

Typing Injuries FAQ – a huge collection of research for finding the best and most helpful information on typing injuries like Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI). You can also check their software recommendations.

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