Before pointing and clicking became as routine as dialing and talking, if you saw a mouse you screamed and jumped up on a table… at least according to the cliché.
Today some experts think you should avoid computer mice with the same decisiveness. Ergonomically, a mouse is the most dangerous part of a computer system, says Deborah Quilter, author of The Repetitive Strain Injury Recovery Book.
Most people mouse around without incident. Typically people use the mouse that came with their computer and don’t give it a second thought.
It can make sense, though, to give some brain time to the unfuzzy little device you push around to navigate your programs and documents. New mice have been introduced recently as upgrades for standard mice. And even when using your existing mouse, making small changes in your work habits can stave off potential injury.
High-Tech Replacement Devices
The two companies that sell the most replacement mice are Microsoft and Logitech, and both have come out with new models sporting sophisticated technology.
Microsoft now features a family of pointing devices that use light to track movement. Microsoft’s IntelliMouse Optical ($45), at http://www.microsoft.com/mouse/mouse.htm, completely dispenses with a rubber mouse ball. The benefits, according to the company, are no skipping and jamming, no moving parts to clean or wear out, and no need for a mouse pad.
The mouse performed well for me, though long-term use would be needed to verify Microsoft’s claims. I liked the extra buttons on the side, which you can use to go forward or backward on the Web or to customize shortcuts in word processing and other programs.
Microsoft’s Trackball Optical ($40) features similar technology, but as with all trackballs, it requires you to maneuver a ball with your fingers instead of an entire mouse with your hand. This takes some getting used to—some people wind up liking trackballs, others don’t.
Whereas Microsoft uses groundbreaking optical technology in its pointing devices, Logitech uses groundbreaking tactile technology. With its IFeel Mouse ($40), at http://www.logitech.com/cf/products/productoverview.cfm/79, you can actually feel the mouse pointer move over icons, menus, and hyperlinks.
Once I got past the “gee-whiz,” the tactile feedback didn’t do much for me. Still I can see how it could help those who occasionally have trouble aligning the mouse pointer with its intended target.
Both Microsoft’s and Logitech’s offerings bring technological enhancements to the party, but they do nothing to eliminate the two primary causes of ergonomic problems with mice—moving your shoulder forward and sideways and bending your wrist upward. “Mice put your hand and arm in the two most dangerous positions at once,” says Quilter.
One solution in avoiding “mouse shoulder” is to use a keyboard with a built-in trackball, such as Key Tronic’s Lifetime Trackball Keyboard ($100), at http://www.keytronic.com/home/products/specs/ltballgovt.htm. The trackball, being in front of your torso rather than to the side, keeps your shoulder in place.
And what about those changes I mentioned that you can make in your work habits? Well, if you use a mouse or trackball that’s separate from the keyboard, which most people do, keep it positioned as close to the keyboard as possible.
In addition, no matter which input device you use, take special care in keeping your wrists from bending upward to help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and other wrist maladies. Most so-called ergonomic keyboards don’t provide adequate wrist support. Many people rest their wrists on the wrist support, which can still cause your wrists to dangerously bend upward.
Ideally, you should type without touching the wrist support, holding your wrists above the support except when resting. If you do place your wrists on the support while typing, you should obtain a separate wrist support that provides adequate elevation. You should also obtain a wrist support for your mouse.
Using a different mouse pointer can also help, particularly if you use a laptop computer or have vision problems. Microsoft provides easier-to-see mouse pointers that you can download for free at http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/q154/5/00.asp.
Low Tech with a Boost
Technological enhancements such as those provided by Microsoft and Logitech are impressive. But when the mouse that came with my primary work computer conked out recently, I went the low-tech route.
I’ve had success in the past prolonging the life of ordinary mice using a 3M Precise Mousing Surface ($10), at http://www.3m.com/market/consumer/pms, instead of a mousepad. Its textured surface helps keep dirt away from a mouse’s innards.
So I wound up buying a no-name mouse at a local computer show. It feels good, works well, and looks nice. At $5, if I knock it on the floor by mistake, I won’t be jumping up on my desk in horror.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://members.home.net/reidgold.