Danielle Weatherbee knows that her notebook computer is her undoing, but she can’t help it. As a medical supplies saleswoman, she’s on the road constantly, spending much of the day hunched over her keyboard at coffee shops, on planes, in bed, even in cabs.
The painful result for the 29-year-old from Seattle is the same as it is for the growing legions of laptop users across the USA: Her neck and wrists ache. Her doctor warned her she already has the skeletal health of a 50- year-old. “But what can I really do?” wonders Weatherbee as she looks up from her Compaq laptop to take a sip of latte at a Coffee Lounge in Las Vegas. “My laptop is the only way to go for my work. I couldn’t live without it.”
Weatherbee’s woes are becoming increasingly common. The culprit: The keyboard and screen on laptops are too close to each other. College students, who increasingly are required to own laptops and use them in lecture halls built for 20th-century academic life, are having a particularly rough time.
When Duke University ergonomics guru Tamara James appeared before first-year medical students some months ago to raise their awareness of the computer posture problems they can expect to see in future patients, James was bombarded by ergonomics complaints from the students themselves. “They sit in lecture halls with built-in tables, hunched over their laptops eight hours a day, and you can see it’s very uncomfortable with them,” James says. “Even if they could move their chairs, which would be a help.”