Innovative office furniture designer Steelcase just released a new desk / chair unit that might be what some virtual world and gaming enthusiasts have been waiting for, but should we really be finding better ways to sit?
The Brody WorkLounge is aimed at blocking out visual and auditory distractions while offering a secure space for maximum concentration. While the chair is being marketed as a new kind of comfortable cubicle for office workers in open plan offices, I couldn’t help but think of how such a chair would improve immersion in virtual worlds.
Cutting out distractions
According to Steelcase, a typical office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes. After an interruption, it takes roughly 23 minutes to get back to the same level of concentration and focus before the interruption.
The chair can combat these issues with an enclosed design, a privacy screen that cuts out distractions that occur when we see something in our peripheral vision. One might imagine feeling more psychologically safe in such a chair, where you can settle down to focus, safe knowing that no one will walk up behind you.
In addition to privacy, the company claims the workspace is designed to ergonomically provide back support while eliminating the ‘lumbar gap’ found in common office chairs – in what the company calls an ‘alert recline’ posture. The tray swivels out for a laptop, wrist supports, there is a small space for work-related items (like hot beverages and mobile devices), and of course, a tidy power socket.
Priced at $2,700 USD, this chair will be out of the market for most consumers. Still, I can imagine competitors arriving on the scene offering less expensive versions that might attract those of us who dislike the stiffness associated with using virtual worlds at a desk, or the ergonomically dangerous approach to spending too much time on the couch.
Improving sitting posture
When it comes to sitting posture, I’m more interested in finding a better posture approach to using my computer, than privacy per se. To me, people seated at the Brody WorkLounge don’t appear to be seated in an ideal ergonomic posture.
Sadly, however, I haven’t been one to point fingers.
When I use Second Life, my habit has been to sit on my (ever-softening) couch with my Belkin Laptop Cushtop on my lap, under my 17″ MacBook Pro. The Cushtop is a grippy fabric covered, hard foam pad with an empty slot in the middle to create an air pocket between the hot laptop and my lap. Priced at about $30 (when it was available on Amazon), it’s an affordable solution that allows me to sit on my couch without toasting my thighs while on SL.
The drawbacks, however, are that this posture is terrible for my wrists, and my couch provides next to zero back support. My forearms are angled way above the recommended 90 degree angle for keyboard typing, with my hands pointing upwards instead of down. There is no wrist support apart from the hard edges on my laptop that tend to dig into my wrists cutting off my blood circulation to my fingertips. When I first sit, my back starts off in a reasonably good position (for a couch), but soon sinks and slopes into a C-curve position that puts way too much pressure on my lumbar and coccyx (instead of the more ideal seated S-curve that most ergonomists recommend).
As I wrote the earlier part of this post, I was seated at my desk. While natural for blogging, I find such an arrangement somewhat formal and unrelaxed for spending leisure time in SL. Further, I work at a desk all day long, and I like a postural difference when I’m on SL, as well as a psychological one. Still, I think I’m going to have to get off the couch – if I’m to avoid long-term pain and discomfort.
Shouldn’t we really be standing?
Recent research examining the effects of our sedentary lifestyles suggests that I’m going about this all wrong. Far better than finding a better chair or posture to sit in, what I really should be doing is standing, or maybe even walking.
If you’re a desk worker by day and a Second Life resident by night – you might be sitting for up to 12 hours a day. That’s half your day spent seated, with probably about 8 hours spent sleeping – leaving only 4 hours spent in the position that in large part defines who we are as a species.
Just today, an SL friend with a different perspective reminded me of how fortunate we are to be able to stand and walk on two legs that work as they were intended. Given this opportunity, I feel it might be scandalous to not take more advantage of this gift than we might otherwise do.
As it turns out, sitting, research shows, is terrible for you:
“Your job is killing you. If you sit at a desk for more than four hours a day, you increase your risk of death from any cause (my emphasis) by nearly 50 percent and boost your risk of heart problems by 125 percent.” – Wired: Get a Standing Desk
I’ve dabbled with a standing desk for a while, and I now going back to that arrangement, because my back, elbows, and wrists are beginning to join forces in protest at my horrendous seated posture habits.
Until now, I have been lucky to be relatively immune to aches and pains as a result of sitting posture. But now, I’m getting tingles in my lumbar, numbness in my elbows and even burning in my wrists. Repetitive stress injuries are something I’d really rather avoid, and I fear my prolonged sitting posture while on SL (in addition to sitting at a desk all day long at work) might be a major contributor to this.
The set up I have pictured here isn’t cheap. This configuration is possible with two Furinno Adjustable Vented Laptop tables, one holding my laptop with the other holding my wireless keyboard and trackpad. They are available on Amazon for £95 each plus shipping. I know that sounds like a lot, but even two of them are cheaper than most good quality desk chairs. Also consider that this is a setup that I can put on any table – not to mention the many health benefits on which one cannot put a price.
What about walking?
I’ve also considered the idea of getting a treadmill desk, where I can walk while I work or use Second Life. How awesome would it be to be active while enjoying the psychological and mental stimulation that the virtual world gives? It would no doubt be more physically advantageous, but I’d imagine it might interfere with concentration. That’s a much larger investment than a standing desk, so I’m keen to hear more about people’s experiences with that.
On paper, a treadmill desk sounds amazing. Apart from being new and trendy, claimed benefits of walking while using a computer include productivity boosts, improved metabolism, increased longevity, a healthier heart, improved focus, a brain boost, back pain relief and a general sense of well-being and happiness.
Where and how do you sit when you access Second Life? Do you care much about privacy when accessing Second Life in your own home? Do you consider ergonomics when seated? Are you suffering from any aches and pains associated with less than ideal typing posture? Would you consider standing, or even a treadmill desk? What would be your ideal virtual world access set-up?
And in case you skipped it above, please remember to complete the poll at the top of this post.