Laptops and toasted skin syndrome: a few thoughts
From The Metro 04/10/10:
An unusual skin condition which once afflicted bakers and glass-blowers has made a comeback. Except this time it’s affecting laptop users.
'Toasted skin syndrome’ which is caused by long-term heat exposure, is affecting people who use a laptop on their knees.
It is generally harmless but can cause permanent skin darkening, and in rare cases is can lead to cancer, Swiss researchers warned.
In one case, a 12-year-old boy developed a sponge-patterned skin discolouration on his thigh after playing computer games for a few hours every day for several months.
In another case a US law student developed the condition after spending about six hours a day working with her computer propped on her lap.
The temperature underneath the machine registered 52C (125F)
This story has been widely reported over the past week and I first encountered it in the trusty Metro. It’s good to see the law student putting in the hours but there are a couple of things which I still don’t quite ‘get’.
Firstly, why was she spending 6 hours a day with her laptop on her lap? What’s wrong with a desk? Kitchen table? The law library? I know we all have different ways of working, but being perched on a sofa with a laptop balanced on your lap surrounded by books, papers and other studenty stuff doesn’t strike me as a very efficient way of working. It can’t be doing her posture any good either.
Secondly, if she’s absolutely got to use it on her lap, how about getting a laptop tray. Although I switch between my desktop PC and laptop frequently, I’ve always felt it necessary to keep the fan intakes clear at the bottom – particularly when using a laptop in bed. I used to use the lid of a large plastic storage container until I discovered the Belkin range of Cush-Desks. I’ve been using one for several months now and rate them very highly.
Most product manuals specify that laptops can get hot and warn users to avoid prolonged use of laptops against bare skin – precisely because of the risk of burns. But you can’t always protect people from themselves. After all, didn’t she sense it was slowly cooking her legs? Or was it analogous to a frog in boiling water not noticing the slowly increasing temperature? Maybe she should have put a thicker pair of trousers on.
No matter what, it’s tough to have much sympathy here.