E-Book Ergonomics: Best Practices?
September 12, 2012 | 10:29 am
By Joanna Cabot
I was working only part-time over the summer, and had a lot more time for reading than I usually do. I found, to my dismay, that about halfway through July, I started getting wrist issues: pain when I typed for long periods, numbness and tingling at night and other troublesome symptoms. What was the culprit, and how did I begin solving the problem? My conclusions surprised me!
1) Identifying the Culprit
I had found that, during the school year, I barely used my Kindle at all. I had the iPad with me at school so I would read during short breaks. And then at night, I would read for an hour or so on the iPod Touch in bed. So I sold my Kindle 4 and figured I would just read on the iPad from now on.
Then I started getting symptoms of an RSI (repetitive stress injury) and I panicked. The iPad must have been the problem because it’s so heavy, I figured. So my quest began for ultimate lightness. I bought myself a Kindle Touch and for a few days, enjoyed it immensely. Then I learned that my partner’s Kobo Touch was a few grams lighter and I started obsessing about those grams …
2) Reality Check: Was weight really the issue?
When I started drawing up a table to compare the weights of various readers, I had a reality check. None of these readers—even my somewhat chunky Kindle Touch—weighs more than a paper book does. So, why did people never deal with RSIs back in the paper days? Why would my lighter-than-paperback Kindle Touch be an issue if I could read a paper novel without any problems?
3) What I Concluded
I finally realized that there was an ergonomic issue going on here that wasn’t about weight at all. It had to do with my proclivity for using my devices naked. I had been so paranoid about how much they weighed that I was reluctant to add the weight of a case to them while in use. I relied on sleeves to protect them while carrying them, but when in use, I read them unfettered.
This created a few ergonomic issues. Firstly, a Kindle is one page-size and a book is a two-page spread. What I was realizing was that for me it was the lack of this extra width that was the issue. In order to both hold the Kindle and turn the page, I had to hold my hands at an angle that torqued my wrists uncomfortably. When I tried the Kindle again with a case that added a couple extra inches to the side, I could hold it without having to angle my wrists and just swipe my thumb over to turn the pages.
The cases also added a cushy surface to the edges on which to rest my hands; the difference of having those hard plastic corners pressing into my palms versus having that soft edge of fabric was significant.
I finally found that because the bare devices didn’t have the same grippiness as the ones I’ve had in cases, it would at times slip in my hands, so I was constantly adjusting my grasp on it. This too put unecessary strain on my wrists and fingers. The book-style case really did make it more comfortable to read on my Kindle Touch.
4) My Ergonomic Solution
I’ve implemented a few changes to my ergonomic situation that have at last begun to resolve the issue. This week, I finally slept through the night again without being woken up by numb fingers! Here’s what I changed:
Typing: I have an iPad keyboard case that makes typing much more comfortable for me because it provides a lower surface than my Macbook, and because it has an indentation at the bottom where your hands can rest. So, I do almost all of my typing-based work on the iPad now, and save the Macbook for book and music management, video work, downloading and other higher-end tasks.
Reading Magazines: I still read those on the iPad, but I make sure it’s resting on my knees, or propped up in a stand or on a table. I try not to hold it in my hands unsupported for long periods.
Books: I read on the Kindle Touch, and am experimenting with different cases. I do think I might want something light and tiny down the road, but I’m going to wait and see how I do now that I’m using a case with it.
It never had occured to me that this was an ergonomic issue and not simply about the weight of the devices until I started really paying attention to what my hands were doing while I was at work and play. Now that I’m being more careful, I’m finding the problem improving quite quickly.