Category Archives: health

Tunnel of Agony

If you are past a certain age, you learned to type on a typewriter. The mechanics of a typewriter, especially a manual typewriter, dictated certain practices and techniques that are no longer necessary on today’s computer keyboards. The keys on a manual typewriter, for example, required a certain amount of force that required a steady downward movement with the fingertips and a quick follow-through, almost as if each finger were digging a small hole in the sand. The typist also had to return the carriage to the left margin with a sweeping left-to-write push, as if he or she were batting flies.

Electric typewriters required far less force and introduced the RETURN key, but even their mechanics required some of the same elements of technique as were used on the manuals. People who learned on manuals tended to type the same way when they moved to electrics, only with quite a bit less force on the keys. This resulted in much, much faster typing.

The computer keyboard, though, requires barely any force at all. A light, feathery touch on the keys brings the desired results and the physical closeness of each key to its buddies means even less movement up and down the keyboard. This has resulted in one very, very unhealthy practice that just about everyone I know, even people who learned to type on manual typewriters, has adopted: Resting the wrists on the edge of the keyboard, on the table in front of the keyboard, or on the surface of the laptop computer, one wrist on each side of the touchpad. This forces your hand into an awkward position (whether you think it’s more comfortable or not!) that, if maintained, will result in a repetitive stress injury such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

In my years as a computer teacher, I have begged, pleaded with, admonished, and threatened my students, insisting they type with their wrists off the keyboards, forearms parallel to the floor, but it has been to no avail. My colleagues, administrators, and students all do it, no matter how many horror stories I relay about RSIs.

Don’t take your heath for granted. You will probably be in front of a computer more and more as this world changes, and you need those wrists. It may slow you down at first, and it may feel awkward and weird to type with correct technique, but you will eventually type faster and for longer periods. If it holds off the ravages of time and typing as well, you may consider that gravy, but I will consider it a primary success.

Check out Healthy Computing for information about ergonomics, technique, and other preventative measures. I would especially like to direct you to the page on stretching, which is the one healthy habit I’ve been able to force upon my students, who have begun every computer class with these stretches for going on six years now.

Now get those wrists off the keyboard or tabletop, and learn to type correctly!