I am writing this post using voice dictation software and a WordPress app on my iPhone. I’m doing this because for the last five years I’ve suffered with repetitive strain injury and recently it has got a lot worse.
Towards the end of writing up my PhD thesis I started to get a strong pain in my right forearm. This came on quite quickly and severely enough so that I couldn’t continue typing or using my mouse. I ordered an ergonomic keyboard and mouse which had a huge and immediate effect and meant that I could actually get to the end of my PhD which otherwise would have been impossible.
This is a problem which has come and gone over that time but has recently come back with a vengeance. My arm has also become permanently swollen. I have had physiotherapy and consulted with my GP but the conclusion that seem to come to is that there is very little that can be done other than to avoid the activity which causes the pain. As an academic this is almost impossible.
I have tried to minimise typing and the use of the mouse which are the two activities which aggravate it the most. I’ve done this through possible using my iPad or iPhone and their dictation software to write emails and do some of the aspects of my writing (mainly just getting down ideas) whenever possible.
However, it is very difficult to get away from the computer as editing documents and any real writing (for me) is very difficult to do in any other way than using a computer keyboard and mouse in the fairly traditional manner. There is voice command software built into the windows OS on my laptop which I have tried although the dictation aspect of it is nowhere near as good as that on my iOS devices (perhaps because I’ve not spent enough time teaching it). It is possible to select files and do other tasks with this software but it is quite fiddly.
This is a real concern for me because I can foresee a potential time when it would be impossible for me to spend any significant time during the day using the computer in the way that I have been. If this became the case then I might even find it difficult to continue as an academic.
There is something of an irony related to this which Franco Berardi highlighted in his book The Soul at Work. As relatively high status, creative or high-tech labour has become more specialised over time, and predominantly engaged with the elaboration of signs (in his words) it has become more physically standardised. For most people in these kinds of roles they simply sit typing at computers. “Intellectual” work is now increasingly causing physical injuries previously associated with “manual” labour.
It is because my RSI has got much worse again in the last few months that I have written fewer blogs. This has upset me because since I started blogging a couple of years ago I have really enjoyed it and feel I have benefited intellectually. But when I have spent all day working on lectures, talks for conferences, papers I am writing, research bids, et cetera and my arm is in a lot of pain it is almost impossible for me to then dedicate more time to writing a blog. However much I would like to.
Previously it also only ever seemed to be an issue when I was engaged in computer work. Recently, however, it has started to impact on other areas of my life when I’m doing things completely unrelated to computer work.
I realise that my problems are perhaps minor in comparison to the physical impairments which many people have and still work successfully in academia and other areas.
I am going to attempt to use the voice dictation software and WordPress app more frequently. This does seem to be something of a solution as it requires very minimal physical interaction with the phone. It will be interesting to see if it this approach also encourages a more conversational style.
If anyone has similar problems and has come up with any strategies for managing RSI (or even effective treatments) please let me know.