Alternative computer interfaces (i.e. other than keyboard and mouse) have become a bit of an obsession of mine lately. The primary reason for this new obsession is the recurring tendonitis in my right (mouse) wrist.
As far as my wrist health is concerned, the last two years have looked like this: months of pain, followed by a decision to finally go to the doctor, followed by months of unsuccessful treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs, followed by a visit to the rheumatologist for a cortisone injection. The injection completely knocks out the inflammation for several months, after which the pain returns and I go back to trying not to use my right arm and hoping that the tendonitis just goes away by itself.
Some might say that I should just go to the doctor when the pain returns and demand another injection. But, even though no one has told me as much, I have a sneaking suspicion that anything that works that well can’t really be good for me. So, I’ve started looking for ways to do my job differently.
Talking instead of typing is the obvious first choice. I recently checked out the latest speech recognition software. It’s impressive, but I’m not yet convinced that it’s a viable replacement for the keyboard. Even with the wrist pain, I can still type much faster and more accurately than the computer can take dictation. Also, I run a small company with a small office. My co-workers would go crazy if they had to listen to me whispering sweet business and programmer-speak to my computer all day long.
Other alternative interfaces, such as tablets, touch screen interfaces, pen-like devices, and trackballs are fine–and if my job involved drawing or moving pictures around, I’d have plenty of choices. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good ways to input words or code into a computer without using your fingers or your voice. Brain-computer interfaces aren’t nearly advanced enough, and my toes are just not long enough to press ctrl-alt-delete to log in, much less to type with.
So, when my wrist finally gives up the ghost, I’m considering taking up a safer profession–like boxing. Let me explain.
A friend of mine was among one of the lucky (or persistent) first people to get their hands on a Nintendo Wii video game console. The main attraction of the Wii is that it uses wireless controllers that can detect motion in three dimensions. What this means is that the golf game for the Wii is played by actually swinging the controller as if it were a golf club, for example.
Last week, as part of my research, we spent an afternoon playing various games on the Wii. One of the games that comes with the Wii is a boxing game in which players stand side-by-side and punch towards the screen. The screen is split down the middle—each player sees a character representing himself facing and punching the character representing his opponent. Note: to the players, this is all very cool. But, as my friend’s wife pointed out, it looks very dorky to someone else in the room watching two people duke it out by punching perpendicularly to each other.
The next day, while I was watching Rocky Balboa (aka Rocky VI), it occurred to me that I am really not that unlike Rocky. Besides the obvious–both of us are incredibly muscular–there’s also the unfortunate fact that we’re both suffering from ailments which make it more difficult for us to do our jobs.
The Wii could be the first version of the ultimate in alternate interfaces for people with jobs that require stresses that their body can’t handle any longer. For anyone who’s seen the latest Rocky movie, you know that virtual reality plays a key role in instigating the fight at the movie’s climax. I suspect that if there’s another Rocky movie, 80-year-old Rocky will use something like the Wii to crush his opponents while avoiding further head trauma.
This brings us back to my planned post-retirement career as a professional boxer. In the future, jobs that require long hours of typing–like computer programming or writing–will be left to the young. Careers involving competition, strategy, and the “eye of the tiger”–like boxing and hockey–will be left to those of us who have plenty of life experience and the will to succeed, but who are no longer fit to use a keyboard.