Of Mice and Men: Will We Let Ergonomics In?

A blog post about computer mice by British ergonomics and usability writer Kelvyn Taylor rang so true to me, I decided to reprint a portion of it here (emphasis added):

These days there are perhaps a few dozen good designs, but hundreds more bad ones. Sadly, many people – even those who should know better – still can’t tell one from the other, until it’s too late and one day they find out, as I did a year or so ago, the sheer misery that RSI can bring.

I’d edited many articles about ergonomics and usability over the years, yet somehow viewed myself as immune. Luckily, in my case it wasn’t too severe and I cured it by the simple expedient of throwing my ordinary mouse away and adopting a vertical model that I found suited my working style. But it’s a sad reflection of the general state of awareness of ergonomics that no one I’ve met (including many work colleagues who, like me, fall into the “should know better” category) has ever heard of a vertical mouse. But everyone is different and other people find trackballs, trackpads or even more exotic designs a better solution.

Workplace ergonomics are enshrined in modern UK health and safety legislation, yet like many workplace rules and regulations they’re typically paid lip service, most often by the staff themselves, who view them as impositions from above rather than sensible recommendations.

Outside the office, staff can do as they please. And if what they please has been determined by years of using games consoles and a crappy 50p no-name mouse, they’re unlikely to voluntarily spend £70 or more on a decent ergonomic replacement.

Yet to anyone who’s experienced even the odd twinge of stiffness or cramp in their wrist, arms or fingers, that will sound like money well spent.

These points touch on some issues that I have brought up before, and which still continue to baffle me. Why do we continue to ignore what we know about ergonomics and computer use? Why do we continue to place workplace ergonomics as a low priority, despite our aches and pains? Why do we continue to engineer our world to work against us, rather than with us?

I think there is room in this discussion for some philosophers and psychologists. Thinking about ergonomics requires not just finding out what we should be doing, but also understanding why we do what we do.

I think we are caught up in a dialectic between the limitations of the human body, and the infinite possibilities of the human mind. What is the point of living in a technologically advanced world in which humans can no longer function?