Tech Ergonomics: Comfort is the Key to Enjoyment

Tech Ergonomics: Comfort is the Key to Enjoyment

Technology is having an impact on our health and it’s hard to have a warm fuzzy feeling about something which physically hurts to use. Investing in comfort is not always a “fun” purchase, but think how enjoyable your activities will be without the pain.

Let’s take a look at the gadgets we use and how ergonomic they are. Then we’ll see what you can do to improve your experience if you get sore using them.

The Longer you Use your Tech, the More Comfortable you Need it to Be

One of the main criteria when choosing a new gadget is to consider what you want to do with it and for how long. The typical length of a single session already tells us a lot about how well it will suit you.

Before we go in details for each kind of gadget out there, here's a quick table of how long, approximately, you can use a certain kind of device before it starts hurting you.

Smartphones Tablets Laptops Stationary Computers
In typical conditions ~2 min. ~5 min. ~15 min. ~30 min.
In ideal conditions ~5 min. ~10 min. ~1 hour ~1 hour

Smartphones

typical smartphone posture

We are quite attached to our smartphones, but they can really take a toll on our body if used for too long during the day. Reported health hazards range from insomnia to “Text Neck Syndrome.” If you have one, I’m sure you’ve experienced moments where you powered through the pain while playing angry bird or watching Netflix.

suggested smartphone posture

“Text Neck Syndrome” can be reduced by holding your phone higher in front of your face. This posture will add some tension on your arms, but you will prevent more permanent damage to your neck.

If you regularly experience discomfort while using your phone, consider switching to a bigger phone. Migrating some of your mobile activities to a tablet (or laptop) could also be beneficial to you.

Maximum consecutive usage for smartphones: ~5 minutes at a time.

Tablets

typical tablet posture

Tablets have the benefit of being usable hands-free and from further away than smartphones. They also commonly come with docks, stands, and other accessories which make hands-free use even more practical.

suggested tablet posture

Tablets are, however, heavier than smartphones and will be more strenuous to use in-hand as a result. So, the key to using a tablet comfortably is to sit down, preferably at a table. The closest you can elevate a tablet to eye level, the better.

Maximum consecutive usage for tablets: ~10 minutes at a time.

Laptops

A laptop’s size has a huge impact on how it should be used. Smaller models will be much less of a strain on you during the day as you carry it or take it from one seat to another.

Larger models will be better for you while sitting at a desk but will take an extra strain on you whenever you carry it. As a result, I usually consider laptops with screens larger than 15.6 inches to be desktop systems. The main benefit of such a large laptop is that it can be stowed away when not in use.

Laptops’ versatility allows them to be used several different ways. Here are the most common, starting with the least comfortable:

posture when using a laptop on your lap

Using a laptop on your lap would be the least comfortable way to use one as this posture will take a strain on your neck and back.

posture when using a laptop on a bare desk

Using the laptop on a table or a bare desk is a step up from your lap as it raises the screen and straightens the back a little, but not completely.

ideal posture when using a laptop at a desk

A laptop-optimized work desk can be set up for prolonged laptop use with the help of a few accessories. Those accessories are:

  • a good quality desk chair
  • laptop stand to raise the top of the screen at eye-level
  • USB keyboard and mouse

Maximum consecutive usage for laptops:

  • on your lap: ~15 minutes at a time
  • on a bare table: ~30 minutes at a time
  • adapted desk: ~1 hour at a time

Stationary Computers

at a desk

A stationary computer is usually the most comfortable option. This should be your go-to solution if you experience any kind of chronic pain affected by posture. If you still experience discomfort, here are a few things you can look into:

better desk setup
  • Invest in a good quality chair with good lumbar support and plenty of adjustment options.
  • If your screen’s top doesn’t reach eye level, a screen riser could help relieve some tension on your neck and upper back.
  • If your feet do not rest firmly on the floor, a footrest will help your posture.
  • If your desk’s surface if positioned higher than elbow level, consider lowering your desk or adding a good keyboard tray under the desk. This will help lower your keyboard and mouse at a natural level.

But even with the optimal desk, you should still avoid remaining sitting for more than an hour. Standing up, stretching up and taking a short walk around the house/desk every so often is heavily recommended.

Maximum consecutive usage for stationary computers: ~1 hour at a time.

What About Standing Desks?

Standing desks have been a popular topic lately and definitely worth considering, but they can be a complex option. Since standing all day is arguably worse for you than sitting all day, taking regular breaks is the best advice for most.

If a standing desk is still something you want to try, I would advise against going for a desk where you will be standing all the time. Better designs allow the user to alternate between a standing and sitting position.

It is still recommended to take frequent pauses and breaks even at a standing desk (maybe even more so). I wouldn't recommend this kind of setup if your goal is to extend your work sessions.

Additional Material

If you want to know more about tech ergonomics, here are a few interesting articles:

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