If you’re reading this, I bet dollars to donuts you’re using a standalone monitor. If so, I have questions.
- Is it at the correct height?
- Is the height easy to adjust?
- How much space does it use?
Monitor Arms - What you should know before you buy
Monitor height plays a significant role in ergonomics. The relationship between your eyes and the screen determines your work efficiency and production; not to mention your health.
Ergonomics is the monitor arm’s parent. Without the acceptance and growth of the concept of ergonomics, the need for a monitor arm may never have happened.
Quick Physical Test
This request may sound strange, but would you do me a favor? While sitting at your desk, raise one arm over your head steady for five minutes.
Go ahead, and I'll wait.
Did you do it? If so, nicely done! If not, that's not too unexpected.
If five minutes was hard using your arms, consider that office workers spend nearly 6.5 hours a day and about 1,700 hours each year sitting in front of their computer. Those times work out to over 100 days of online time each year.
Imagine having to sit all that time applying considering ergonomics. Your shoulders, arms, and wrists will hurt because of not using a keyboard tray correctly or not even using one. If you don't position your monitor correctly, your back and neck pay the price.
That's where a monitor arm comes in. An arm allows you to make corrections creating a better ergonomic position for your monitor.
Let's take a look at how monitor arms have evolved into an indispensable ergonomic tool.
- Quick Physical Test
- Early Ergonomic Theories
- Stepping Through Time
- Monitor Timeline
- Simpler Times
- Early Monitors
- Coming Into Their Own
- Dieting Monitors
- The Era of Monitor Arms
- Arm Bone Connected To ...
- Durably Strong
- Finding Their Niche
- What Types of Arm Works for You?
- What's Next?
Early Ergonomic Theories
The seed for ergonomic thought was planted several centuries ago in publications about the physical symptoms people showed after days of repetitive work.
Unfortunately, serious consideration of ergonomics wasn’t didn't occur until the beginning of the 20th Century. I’d love to say employee health played a factor when those seeds finally sprouted giving us ergonomics.
But I would be lying to you.
Work was backbreaking back then. So many of the things we take for granted today such as forklifts, pallet jacks, weren’t around. People back then relied on their exertion to get jobs done.
The ergonomic concept came about because people wear down and get tired. Industry owners developed the theory of Scientific Management. Scientific Management analyzes and synthesizes workflow, and its ultimate goal was improving labor productivity.
Ironically, World War II made the theory of ergonomics take off. After several aircraft crashes, the Air Force wanted to find out the average pilot height and design the cockpit which fit them.
A Harvard professor measured over 4,000 pilots and made a remarkable discovery, there was no average height! To their credit, Air Force engineers redesigned the cockpit to include things like adjustable seats and improved ergonomic design.
Stepping Through Time
As the 20th Century progressed, engineering and design concepts included the human element. In business offices, ergonomics helped determine the correct height for people as they sat at desks and typewriter tables.
Typewriters changed into Word processors. Word processors turned into personal computers. The more time somebody sat in front of a computer, the higher the instance of repetitive stress injuries.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics said that in 2012, 55.4% of all workplace positions used computers. Of course, that percentage was zero 100 years ago, but that growth needs to start somewhere.
Personal computers (PCs) didn’t entirely replace word processors until the early 1990s. With the advent of the internet, PCs became a critical tool in the office environment and saddled desks everywhere with large computer monitors.
From how they started to today, computer monitors took a long journey.
Digital displays started as blinking indicator lights flashing on or off when the computer processed information.
The next evolutionary step involved punch cards in entering and receiving information from computers. People used a typewriting kind of machine to write programs that punched holes into paper cards. Someone took those cards and dropped a sack into the computer, which read and ran the program. When the computer finished processing an application, it punched the results on a blank punch card. Operators had to use a machine that decoded the card on sheets of paper.
Communicating from one location to another, before computers, was the teletype. Starting as Morse Code, teletypes evolved into an electric typewriter and transmitted to other teletype machines using telegraph lines. Engineers started attaching teletypes to computers and used them as display devices. Until the 1970s, teletype machines were the cheapest way to communicate with other computers.
You wouldn’t know it, but computers screens were considered to be virtual paper. The messages displayed on early monitors became more flexible and faster than paper.
The machine that performed this ‘miracle’ became known as the glass teletype. These teletypes transmitted code for text only. Until the 80s, very few glass teletype machines supported color.
In 1976, three people created the first computers using factory video outputs. These computers were cheap terminal devices using inexpensive video monitor display.
As PCs became ubiquitous, computer manufacturers started building monochrome and color video monitors.
Coming Into Their Own
In the mid-80s, IBM introduced monitors with higher resolutions and better color. As the 1980s moved along, so did monitors. Two computer companies developed RBG monitors, allowing images to display their full colors.
In the mid-90s, the era of Beige-Box began. These were the colossal CRT computer monitors that occupied so much of our desks that people needed to develop other ways of organizing their workspace.
Right around the turn of the century, gas system monitor lifts appeared and held those gargantuan CRTs above desks.
Gradually, those large CRT monitors started getting smaller, leading to different means of elevating screens.
Before standing desks became popular and monitor arms common, the only way of adjusting a computer monitor was an effective use of creativity.
Placing paper reams, rigid boxes, and adjustable desktop platforms lifted monitors off the desk. Lowering the monitor relied more on adjusting the height of a chair or non-recommended methods of raising desks.
The biggest reason, pun intended, for lack of monitor arm development was how large those Beige-Boxes were. However, as the technology grew less expensive in the early part of this century, monitor weight became a non-factor.
Although variations used monitor arms around 2000, the first patents for monitor arms date back to the mid-1980s. The era of the monitor arm began.
The Era of Monitor Arms
Once people began lifting their monitors off the work surface, they discovered some very nice benefits, including:
- Workspace under the monitor became available
- Ability to use multiple monitors
- The quick adjustment of the monitor height for different people
- Monitors finally becoming ergo-friendly
Convenient and impersonal as they are, the monitors need holding.
Arm Bone Connected To ...
There are three common ways to connect a monitor arm to your desk:
- Clamp: the arm fastens to the desk using some clamping hardware.
- Wall-mounted: mounted arm brackets on a wall.
- Grommet: the arm hardware is lifted through a drilled hole while being secured underneath the work surface
The number of arms also vary. There are single-use, which is the most common type of monitor arm; multiple monitor arms; laptop arms supporting laptops; and mixed-use using dual arms with one holding a laptop and the other the monitor.
These advantages and kinds of monitor arms are fantastic. However, if the arm can’t hold a monitor, what good is it?
There are two ways an arm secures and holds a monitor: a static post or springs or gas systems.
- Holding heavier monitors with Static Arm Posts
- Spring or Gas arms are entirely the opposite of static arm posts. Spring/gas arms can’t hold heavier monitors, and they’re easy to adjust.
Finding Their Niche
During the past several years, more people use more than one monitor when working in front of the computer. Having those monitors above the desk, not on the desk, make for better workspace organization.
Where multiple monitors truly shine are locations where several monitors become necessary. Prisons, schools, and medical facilities are the biggest beneficiaries for this development.
Watching a variety of security camera feeds simultaneously becomes easier using this setup.
Medical facilities, such as a radiology department, offer the advantage of viewing several X-rays, CAT scan, and MRI results at one time, instead of having to browse through a gallery of images.
What Types of Arm Works for You?
The many applications of monitor arms use only six varieties of arms, including:
- Gas Spring: this type of monitor arm is a little more expensive than it's mechanical counterpart. It silently moves and provides a slower release of force than the mechanical version.
- Mechanical Spring: the mechanical version is less expensive and last longer than the gas spring. There are no leaky seals or failing parts to worry about. Mechanical springs operate louder than gas springs.
- Post Mount: Post mounts operate the same as gas or mechanical spring mounts, but fastened to the workspace through a grommet hole.
- Wall Mount: Work best in high traffic areas or limited space.
- Rail Mount: ideally suited for multiple monitor systems typically found in security, healthcare, and financial environments.
- Stacking: similar to a post mount system except, in this case, monitor arms are stacked one on top the other.
- Swivel, Tilt, Rotate: these monitor arms provide a wider range of motion than other arms. They tilt up or down, swivel side-to-side, and changes the monitor orientation by rotating.
What’s cool about living during this period is how quickly things develop. Thirty years ago, the internet wasn’t a thing; cellphones were the size of a brick and only dialed numbers, and beige-boxes pockmarked office across America.
"The best way to predict the future is to create it."
Nobel winner Dennis Gabor wrote the above quote in his 1963 book, Inventing the Future. It's poignant, and it means for an entertaining future.