But I had never really considered the physical toll that research can take on the body, so I was amused earlier this summer when I read a Chronicle of Higher Education post about that very thing. "When we think of academe as 'the life of the mind,' we’re obscuring one basic fact: Conducting research can take a real physical toll on a scholar’s body. No, scholarship isn’t a dangerous factory job. But hours spent hunched over in library carrels, staring at computer screens, and pecking away at keyboards can cause any number of problems—eye strain, headaches, back and neck pain, repetitive strain injuries, and the like."
Along with the normal ailments associated with office work, "there’s a piece of equipment that’s as unhealthy as it is inescapable: the microfilm machine. Even in our world of digitization, microfilm remains relevant. Librarians, journalists, lawyers, genealogists, and historians still spend plenty of time digging up obscure and underpublicized sources like local newspapers, old maps, government documents, and city directories. That stuff tends to be preserved on microfilm only."
How is a microfilm machine unhealthy? The author referred to it as 'microfilm malaise.' "The rolling of the pages across the screen, the whir of the spindle, the dark all around: It makes me dizzy, heats my body like a raging furnace, rocks my stomach, and induces a gagging that nearly costs me my lunch every time I use a microfilm machine." In other words, there is some sort of motion sickness happening.
The author went on a quest to find out the reason for this 'sickness.' As a doctor said, "[v]ision is one of the inputs that we use to stabilize the entire body. So if there’s text moving under your eyes in ways that you don’t fully control, then you have to try to compensate. That can make you sick."
For any microfilm malaise sufferers out there, here are some tricks to avoid sickness:
- Take inexpensive, over-the-counter medications like Dramamine
- If you don’t want to take meds take breaks every 20 minutes
- Bring a snack
And if all else fails, remember that digitization projects increasingly mean that microfilm will become less and less relevant.