Is Your Ergonomic Office Trying to Kill You?

August 10, 2012 • Culture Dept.

Ergonomic Chairs are lethalWriting in cafes isn’t “ergonomic,” a productivity blog tried to convince me with its H2 headline. “Tell that to Hemingway and see if your blogging finger still works afterwards,” was my first thought.

Then I began thinking about my own blogging finger and the fact that my corporate headquarters is the corner cafe. Was I not being ergonomic? Was I damaging this fair bodkin? Though the litany of injuries listed read something like the old Boy Scout manuals and their admonishments against “self-abuse” (oh, no, I’m “slack-jawed and listless” again), I became concerned.

But first, what the hell does “ergonomic” really mean? This much I know, “ergo” is Latin for “therefore,” as in “Cogito ergo sum,” or “I think therefore I am.” “Nomic” is from the Greek “nomos” meaning “law.” Thusly, we have a half-blood portmanteau that essentially means the “Law of Therefore,” or, to invoke contemporary vernacular, “Because I say so.”

Now, I’m no etymologist but I did drop out of a linguistics class at Sonoma State one semester and this is what I learned: No one cares. Not least of which whomever coined the term “ergonomic” to refer to design optimized for the human body. It’s also called “biotechnology,” which might read a little too sci-fi to the layman, suggesting, as it does, everything from bionics to cloning – two sciences I’m looking forward to merging so I can finally have my cyborg army. That said, they will still have to sit somewhere lest they too become slack-jawed and listless, so I’m still vexed by ergonomics.

The International Ergonomics Association defines ergonomics and its accepted synonym “human factors” as the “scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system” and a bunch of other hoo-ha cut and pasted into Wikipedia. All I know is that after 15 minutes at my newly ergonomically-optimized workspace in the corner of my living room, my wrists are aching like I just bowled a thousand frames in the Gravitron.

Perhaps my wrists (and now my arms) ache because they’re finally being used properly. It’s like when you start working with a trainer and the next day parts of your body that you never knew existed are on fire. Soon, my forearms will look like Popeye’s. Instead of anchors, I’ll get the Bluetooth symbol tattooed on them. I’ve had to become friendly with the wireless format since I needed to acquire a wireless keyboard to replace the keys I can no longer reach on my laptop since it’s now (ergonomically) the same height as my chin. I paid $60 at the Apple Store for some faux-brushed steel contraption that a stack of books or a milk crate could do for free. Now my laptop is essentially a desktop but not as seismically-sound. When the big quake comes, the laptop will snap down on me like a titanium venus fly trap (just like it always wanted).

Looking my laptop screen in the eye is disconcerting. It’s like a staring match. I liked looking down on it. Sure, I might have eventually grown into a hunchback but at least we knew who was in charge. Now, my laptop screen glowers back at me with its lone camera eye that never blinks.

And apparently my new chair is boring. How can an innovative, ergonomic chair be boring? Ask my ass when it wakes up. It’s enough to make me flee to the cafe with a notebook and pen. Worked for Hemingway.

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Daedalus Howell is the featured guest artist at Words and Strings at 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 16, at the Epicurean Connection, 122 W. Napa St., Sonoma. The free monthly event is hosted by impresario Stacey Tuel, who invites performers of every stripe to participate in open mic portions of the evening. For more information, email staceytuel@gmail.com or visit facebook.com/WordsStringsAndWildThings.

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