This will probably be just a throwaway line in the book, or a paragraph at most, but I’ve been thinking a bit about RSIs and computer-related injuries as an example of the fractured manner in which we’ve tried to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds.

Of course, you can injure yourself carrying firewood, herding sheep, wrangling children, or doing a million other things in the real world. But as I understand it, people get RSIs when of two things happen: either when computers (or more precisely, keyboards, mice, and monitors and their relationships to the body) force users to do something that their body objects to; or when computers remove a physical constraint that prevented users from performing the same action for a long time.

This isn’t necessarily a problem caused by badly-designed computers. One of my colleagues sent around this bit (allegedly) from the New England Journal of Medicine:

A healthy 29-year-old medical resident awoke one Sunday morning with intense pain in the right shoulder. He did not recall any recent injuries or trauma and had not participated in any sports or physical exercise recently….

[H]e had bought a new Nintendo Wii (pronounced “wee”) video-game system and had spent several hours playing the tennis video game…. In the tennis video game, the player makes the same arm movements as in a real game of tennis. If a player gets too engrossed, he may “play tennis” on the video screen for many hours. Unlike in the real sport, physical strength and endurance are not limiting factors.

The problem with the Wii isn’t that it makes you do something really unnatural. But in the real world, few of us can play tennis for four or five hours straight; a Wiimote, in contrast, is light enough to make that possible.

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There’s also some criticism of the new Cisco open office on ergonomic grounds:

The photo of a Cisco no-cubicle office in the recent San Jose Mercury News article set off my alarm bells, however. The no-cubicle environment in the picture is an ergonomic nightmare. I can’t believe the article didn’t discuss this downside to the wonders of the new office.

I called Lisa Voge-Levin, an ergonomic consultant who helps companies design healthy work environments, and asked her to look at the Cisco photo with me…. [She reported that the armchairs, lack of eye-level monitors, and absence of tables for drinks and accessories] contributes to neck and back injuries including muscle and tendon strain as well as such serious injuries as ruptured discs. She also notes that in such an environment, it is hard to control lighting, glare, or noise; all can lead to headaches.

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