Reclined Computing With Your Laptop

Laptops are great; I’m an uber-fan and have been almost exclusively a laptop user since 1996, but for the long hours of production work that many web workers like myself do, conventional laptop ergonomics are a horror, and can lead to a variety of painful or even debilitating conditions over time.

There are two effective conventional ways to address this issue. You can place the computer on a laptop stand of some sort that elevates the display to a comfortable viewing plane that doesn’t involve tilting your head forward, and connecting an external keyboard and mouse for input. Alternatively, you can use an external monitor.

A less conventional solution, which I’ve been working with successfully for a while now, is to use one of several devices that facilitate computing in a reclined posture, like the Laptop Laidback, pictured above. I’m going to discuss these devices in this post.

Dave Malouf, an Industrial Design professor at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD), also a primary founder and first vice president of the Interaction Design Association, recently taught a class project in laptop computer design and ergonomics. An abstract report on the class was published last August in Core 77. Among many other aspects and nuances of laptop design and engineering covered in the class, one group of students investigated the physical ergonomics associated with the use of smaller computing devices, and discovered that a conventional small clamshell laptop is most comfortably used lying down, with the device on the thigh and the knees kept elevated.

This posture approximates the ergonomics enabled by products like the Laptop Laidback, only with them, you can relax your legs and don’t need to keep your knees up in order to maintain the ideal arm, hand, neck, shoulder and leg positions relative to the computer that are recommended by ergonomists in order to maximize comfort and minimize body stress: elbows resting on the support surface (no reaching) and palms and fingers falling relaxedly on the palm rests and keyboard (without having to lift your elbows).

Of course if you use your laptop in an employer’s office or other conventional workplace, assuming a laying-down-on-the-job position, even in the rare instances when it would be logistically possible, is likely to be frowned upon. However, if you work on the web out of a home office as I do, working laid-back is not only possible, but arguably the ideal mode to use for long hours at the keyboard, especially in conjunction with a Wi-Fi connection. When you’re comfortable, you’re more likely to be pain- and stress-free, can extend your laptop usage, and are likely to be more efficient and effective.

I can personally vouch for this. I’ve been using my Laptop Laidback for years for fully-reclined computing. The Laidback is a special laptop stand with an adjustable, inclined support tray that forms a “bridge” spanning your torso when lying down on a bed or sofa, letting your arms assume the recommended 90-degree elbow angle, comfortably relaxed. While the angle of the keyboard when the computer is mounted on the Laptop Laidback or similar device tray may appear “wrong” from an ergonomic perspective, when the user is reclined, it actually facilitates natural and relaxed assumption of the ideal elbow angle and straight wrist posture.

The $99.99 Laptop Laidback is, of course, not the only product of this type available. A couple of other examples include the $99.95 (free shipping) Wizard Multi-Configurable Laptop Stand from Lapworks and the nearly identical $89.00 (shipping not included) Lapdawg Multi-Purpose Laptop Desk;  the $149.00 (and up) AirDesk Swing-Away Laptop Computer Desk/Stand; the €99.00 ($145) Lounge-book Freestanding Reclining Laptop Stand; the  $125.00 (+ $32.00 shipping) LM1 Rolling Laptop Over The Bed Table; and others.

I’ve used the first three products mentioned above, but the Laptop Laidback’s been my standby for the past eight years. Because I battle several chronic health issues, without the Laidback I might’ve literally been long since out of business as a web worker. However, even folks in perfect health (who want to stay that way, at least) may find they prefer to use their laptops while relaxing recumbently for working, surfing or whatever.

Do you practice reclined computing? If so, do you use a special laptop stand or just make do with your knees?