OLPC XO: Keyboarding Kids into Carpal Tunnel and RSI Injury?


Greg Bright, of Keynamics, recently alerted me to his One Laptop Per Child posture website. While I find the site's layout visually painful, he makes an interesting point: educational laptops are not designed for a child's physical health.

olpc msft posture
Evil to mind & body
Society has yet to see the long term effects of a child who has been hunching over a laptop, since the age of 5.

A quick look around any college campus, will show numerous examples of young bodies hunched over laptops in unsafe postures. Culminating repetitive strain injuries with every keystroke. They all look like Smeagol.

Now the Children's Machine XO design isn't unique - it follows the basic laptop layout that Mr. Bright warns us about, maybe for the benefit of his company.

But could OLPC help improve the posture of young computer users before they become slump-shouldered adults? Might a good computer posture tutorial be part of the basic XO laptop orientation program?

A more dynamic, yet simpler health-positive change could come from the OLPC XO keyboard. I'm not talking Qwetry vs. Dvorak, there are too many non-English languages for the OLPC to worry about that argument. I am talking about a split ergonomic split keyboard that could save a few million wrists from repetitive stress injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you are a geek like I am, I know there are days when your fingers and wrists hurt. Some heavy users even have to have surgery to reduce the inflammations that normal keyboards inflict on the human hand. Standard square keyboards, be they straight or offset are not kind to those who type thousands of words per day.

Yet, maybe wrist RSI could also be mitigated through beginner user education. An OLPC Wiki contributor says:

If proper posture is utilized from the beginning, an individual can type rapidly on any surface including knees while seated on the floor. My experience has been as a typing teacher for 3rd - 12th graders. The arms should be loosely away from the body so that an upside down V is naturally formed from left elbow to left thumb on spacebar and right thumb to right elbow.
Interesting. Maybe the OLPC's initial start-up activity could be a tutorial that reminds young, impressionable users how to correctly interface with a laptop computer - with both the body and the mind comfortably engaged in "learning learning".

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Perhaps during those interminable 30 odd seconds of start-up time that laptops take to get to the Sugar desktop the screen can show images depicting proper posture and arm-hand positioning.

Another assumption by most of us is that we want kids to spend more time in front of a computer screen which means less time doing other things, some of which may be just as inactive (watching tv, reading a book)while others would be a good alternative to using an XO.

Here in Silicon Valley Kaiser Family Foundation has done one of the numerous studies of obesity and screen media use.

Perhaps this would an opportunity to revisit traditional laptop design. For example, could the screen and keyboard/cpu be separable to allow the monitor to be placed free standing in a more ergonomic setup using wireless technologies? Of course there are power issues, but a thin, retractable cord connecting the two might work.

No doubt there are dozens of issues that must be considered such as the increased risk of damage and the suitability of the environment for such a split arrangement. Nevertheless, perhaps there is some merit in the principle of revisiting the configuration. Keyboards that 'slide' apart to create a broader spread etc.

Maybe this would be a useful topic to have an open brainstorming forum on.

Hey Wayan his site layout is as ugly as its easily readable. especially in a leaned-back position i adopted long ago. Your site is opposite to his. sadly though it's not just Eye Candy... I either use a lot of firefox's zoom and scroll or......

Americans believe that the Internet is able for a time to replace them with a loved one. Often they type too much instead of talking. This gives wrist injury. XO keyboard does not matter. Keyboard does not matter. Human love matters.

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