Illustrations of computer workstations almost invariably show the screen of the VDU vertical, and the head held erect (back straight/vertical, neck straight/vertical). These two things seem to me to be quite unnatural. In some cases the centre of the screen is shown level with the eye, in others the top of the screen.
I have never seen anyone reading a book with the spine of the book vertical. Neither have I seen anyone read with back and neck straight (vertical), and the centre (or top) of the page level with the eye. In all cases I can remember (except hospital cases etc.) the book is held below eye level and inclined such that a line from the eye to the centre of the page would be normal to the page. Everyone I know finds this comfortable.
Why does conventional ergonomic wisdom inflict an unnatural and, to me, uncomfortable position on workstation operators?
You’re reading the wrong ‘conventional ergonomic wisdom’.
The top of the screen should be no lower than eye level, and it’s that high because screens are usually bigger (in height) than books.
The screen should be tilted such that its centre is the closest part to your eye (assuming you read from all parts of the screen).
The chair should be reclined slightly (and/or the seat pan tilted forwards).
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