Saturday, November 01, 2014

Why Ergonomics is Bad

It may have struck out of nowhere, but it sure kept me puzzled enough to pen it down. While ergonomics is generally considered good and perhaps has taken a much more active role in the recent years of development, the question that has not been asked at proper forums(atleast in my knowledge) is whether the pros of ergonomics outweigh its cons.

Yes, I am talking about the problems with ergonomics. In its most simple sense, ergonomics means "the science of work". In application, it is a discipline focused on making products and tasks comfortable and efficient for the user. Now, this looks good throughout with the noblest of intentions of striving something that shall benefit one and all. It is hard to consider that there could be something fundamentally flawed in the definition itself. This article aims to make that subtlety apparent by viewing it in a broader perspective.

Of late, the development has been comfort-centric or ergonomically driven. While this has given us better TVs for our eyes, better chairs for our back rest, better car seats for our body, apparently there is something more that they are giving us for which they are not given due credit, intentionally or unintentionally. These newly designed agents of comfort are taking away the innate capacity of the human body to deal with change in environment. This is making our body more fragile and weak than it ever was in the history of evolution.

Let us try to understand this through the analysis of 2 different lifestyles of

(A) Sedentary workers, (B) Non-sedentary workers.

For people that belong to class A, which includes students and people with corporate jobs, the routine is basically -
  • waking up in a nice cushion bed in a.c./non a.c. room
  • go to a.c./non a.c. workplace (school/office) in a.c./non a.c. vehicle (car/bike)
  • do sitting jobs for about 8-10 hours
  • get back in the same vehicle
  • eat and eventually sleep

With a few modifications like gymming, helping with household chores, etc. for about 5-10% of people, this more or less describes their daily schedule.

Ergonomically speaking, the technology that develops according to the lifestyle is aimed at developing -
  • compatible a.c.(s) with room/car/office-cubicles
  • more comfortable beds and mattress
  • better designed chairs

This is promoted in the name of providing better comfort to the body. While it cannot be denied that it is indeed true, but the fact is that the story doesn’t end there. The other half of this story is about its side-effects that are never discussed. Because our body is conditioned to remain in the same narrowed temperature range for years inside our a.c rooms, it becomes sensitive to other temperatures and shows adverse reactions. Our bodies get trained against the nature and whenever they come in contact with the nature, conflict is bound to happen. Our bodies yield because of decreased immunity and a plethora of similar reasons. Similar is the case with comfortable chairs and beds. The gravity of the situation is better understood when it is contrasted against the picture of Type B people.

For people that belong to class B, which includes labourers and physical-workers, the routine is basically -
  • wake up in not-so-cosy beds
  • walk or cycle to the workstation
  • do manual labour for hours
  • eat heavily and sleep well

With a few modifications like using public vehicles for commuting instead of walking or cycling, for about 5-10% of people, this more or less describes their daily schedule.

Arguably, they have a much better and robust immunity system and that too without all that good nutrient-rich diet or medical assistance. They tend to avoid allergies and other petty nuisances which class A people suffer with and are on temporary/permanent medications. A range of modern-day diseases are a gift of this so called "comfort-centric ergonomics".

~ Ashish Khandelwal PGDM2014 Marketing

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