Landing : Athabascau University

Computer Ergonomics in the Office

Hi, everyone. Today I'm showcasing an assignment I put together for my COMP214 course, as a follow-up to yesterdays' post. Now don't worry, it's already been graded (full marks!) and I'm not displeased with my investigative journalism, but I'd like to return to it with some post-assignment analysis. Hopefully I'll be able to complete the course with the help of this synthesis; I'm planning on my last assignment set being a pretty complete review of everything that came before.

I've uploaded the PDF here, go ahead and take a look. It's a conversation between myself and a personnel executive in a rather large IT company. You likely have some money invested in the success of my friend here if you've got RRSPs or the like, in fact. Go ahead and read it, it'll only take a minute. I'll wait.


Ergonomic Computer Issues


Done? Okay, good. I just wanted to discuss an interesting point from this. Most of what we talked about in that interview was about hardware - keyboards, chairs, monitors, etc. The hardware itself isn't the root of the problem, though. It isn't so much the device itself as the procedure one uses the device with. There's nothing wrong with keyboards per se, it's the fact that people can hide behind them instead of dealing with problems face-to-face. Having a single monitor isn't the problem, it's that we've got too much to flip between in order to complete our jobs. Repetitive strain injuries aside, the big problem with these sub-optimal devices is in how we use them. 

One of my favourite comments to make on business, government, and policy decisions is that we aren't really doing anything that would be out of place in the 17th century. If a clerk from the Hudson's Bay Company were given a computer and the internet, once the shock of the technology was over he'd be doing pretty much what we're doing now. Accounting in ledgers, inventory lists, writing financial documents, etc; all of this is centuries old. Our tools have changed considerably but we're still going through the same motions as our forefathers.


This fact should have a giant neon sign above it saying "FIX ME." And, largely, it has been fixed, conceptually. Some industries are right on board. Programming uses Agile Development instead of the traditional methods, and can turn out software faster and more securely as a result. The corporate infrastructure around that activity, though, hasn't changed, and is resistant to it. Even seeing how successfully change has taken root in these pioneer fields, our businesses and governments stay rooted in their pseudo-feudal guilds. What's going on?

The answer's a little outside of the scope of this blog article, but I suspect we're dealing with human sociology at its most basic. We like forming into tribes, we like having a father figure to hand down wisdom, we like a world where social position dictates responsibility and reward. Until someone figures out how to co-opt these tendencies into a new, more efficient and egalitarian power structure, I don't think we'll be seeing any changes in how our basic institutions operate. Sadly.

Does that make any sense?