A Room With A Virtual View

When I had my office in the old building, I really enjoyed having a window to the outside. The flow of the day shifted with the sunlight and clouds, the rustle of the trees, and the movement of people and animals outside while I was tied to a monitor with reading echocardiograms.

That all changed with the construction of a shiny new office tower and my relocation to a new, spacious office, which was very nice except for the absence of windows. I missed the “brain breaks” that glancing outside gave me. Reading echos depends on constant data processing, actively forgetting and making room for new incoming so managing mental fatigue is very important.

I looked to my hobbies to put breathers into my workflow.  This included an aquarium with live plants, sandstone, and peaceful fish, like guppies and mollies. The chaotic activity of my fish helps release the knots in my mind. A hydroponic system called AeroGarden ®  was placed beside the aquarium. The system generates a mood-lifting natural light and grows stunning flowers that prompt happy comments from people walking by my open door. I teach the beauty of life can be found in the structure of plants and hearts.

The view from the desk where I interpret echocardiograms. Nature Relaxation™ image wa reproduced with permission.

Fatigue management also consists of a stunning 4K monitor on the wall in front of my desk that was generously provided to me by my employer. The large monitor mirrors my desktop so that cardiology fellows can follow and learn from my interpretations as I point to difficult structures with my mouse. Sometimes, there will be a group of fellows, residents, and medical students learning from me. At times, I raise my sit-stand desk so we can stretch and re-frame.  

I can play nature videos on the 4K monitor like the ones from Nature Relaxation™  or Youtube and revel from vistas of Norwegian fjords, Patagonians landscapes, and the underwater dances of whales. The monitor is my virtual window. It helps me focus and lighten my mood. When I use the 4K monitor for teaching, I position my laptop beside my desktop monitor and glance at nature images on a smaller screen. My students enjoy this very much because it inspires pleasant banter and intermingles thoughts of nature with the learning of cardiology concepts. The restorative images give me the stamina to analyze massive amounts of medical data.

My experience is supported by what has been published. Research pioneered by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan shows that seeing nature manages mental fatigue and stress and improves memory and attention. Renowned writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks MD notes in his essay collection “Everything In Its Place” that nature “exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains” and describes how exposure to gardens benefited his patients. He asserts that this is also “critical for people working long days in windowless offices”. These are powerful observations that concur with my experience. Furthermore, projected images also do the trickfor me; they help me stay focused and in flow. It addresses a nature deficit disorder, described by Richard Louv in children, but can affect adults too. His book, “The Nature Principle”, describes how connecting with nature promotes health, creativity and mental acuity. For education, video projections allow a simulation of the outdoor classroom inside.

Wherever I go, I see people glued to their screens, together and separated at the same time.  But these screens can also be beneficial. Many people work in rooms and cubicles without windows and have similar needs. The good news is that we can benefit from screens to access nature and work in a room with a virtual view.

Disclaimers and credits: No endorsement of this blog or website is implied by references to individuals, institutions, companies or their products.

A Room with a View is a book by E.M. Forster that was published in 1908.
Oliver Sacks MD quote from  New York Times article and his essay collection  “Everything in Its Place”  

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