The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

While writ­ing this at a stand­ing desk — and tak­ing my good time about it — I look at the up­hol­stered, er­gonomic chair with tilt func­tion that has been pushed into a cor­ner and think: why are we mak­ing it so hard for our­selves?

Why is it the height of fash­ion to kick away chairs, ditch cush­ions, snub all-in­clu­sive hol­i­days and dis­dain prick-n-serve meals just for the plea­sure of do­ing it the hard way?

I know, I know, it’s partly about fit­ness and the fact we have en­gi­neered an obe­so­genic en­vi­ron­ment, where it’s pos­si­ble to pass most of your life sit­ting with a de­vice that will bring films, food, friends, banks, sport­ing bets and African princes to your lounge chair with the swipe of a fat thumb.

Hav­ing reached the apogee of mod­ern com­forts, we re­alise we’re be­ing killed with cush­ions and need to start mov­ing again. I get that — I have just com­pleted a few squats while think­ing those thoughts. But it’s not just in the area of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity we have brought out the Michelle Bridges video at the back of our minds. Take, for in­stance, the maker move­ment.

Highly ed­u­cated young peo­ple, who could well have bet­ter things to do, have de­cided the stuff they buy in shops is too easy and, in­stead, they are mak­ing beers, gins, whiskeys, breads, can­dles, pots, slub-weave jack­ets and per­fumes, just like their tooth­less an­ces­tors did in the 17th cen­tury. Even though they can or­der whiskey from Ja­pan and barely in­ter­rupt their League of Le­gends game, they are choos­ing to as­sem­ble pre-in­dus­trial equip­ment in their garage, call in some friends and get their hands dirty.

And, as we know, ev­ery­thing cool young peo­ple do soon makes its way into mid­dle-aged cir­cles. How of­ten has one of your friends said, did you as­sem­ble this bi­cy­cle your­self? Or: did you butcher the meat your­self? Or: this pear tart is lovely, are the pears from your back yard? (OK, maybe that’s just my friends.)

Ob­vi­ously one ad­van­tage of the do-it-the­hard-way move­ment is a lot of this stuff tastes great (al­though I have yet to taste the shi­raz friends made last month). Mostly, the fruits of the garage taste real; they taste of their mak­ing and where they come from and if they end up a lit­tle wonky, they can fer­tilise pear trees.

But it is oner­ous, it’s time-con­sum­ing and, frankly, it’s not usu­ally cheaper when you fac­tor in equip­ment, hours of labour and friend­ships. So you have to won­der why, when our phones are full of apps for short cuts, we are choos­ing to take the long way around. And there’s a clue right there. Could there be an in­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween the amount of tech­nol­ogy in our lives and our need to im­merse our­selves in vats of hops or spend week­ends shap­ing beeswax into 17th-cen­tury light­ing sys­tems? Gulp, could this be an­other ex­pla­na­tion for pa­leo?

It makes sense that if tech­nol­ogy re­moves us from the pro­cesses of liv­ing, we will feel a gap in our ex­pe­ri­ence of life. When we no longer have to stand, cook, clean or walk to the local coli­seum for a bit of en­ter­tain­ment, then we’re likely to feel a sense of frus­tra­tion with our own hu­man­ity. We might look at those five dig­its and think — nice, but four of them are a bit use­less. We might miss our mem­ory but de­cide that Google is more re­li­able any­way. We might be­gin to feel re­dun­dant in our bod­ies.

When we de­cide to re-en­gage in the process of mak­ing stuff or think­ing about things, it feels as if we count in the process of procur­ing life. As if we had some­thing to do with how our lives un­fold. That’s how I like to ex­plain the stand­ing desk to scep­ti­cal friends. I like think­ing on my feet, I say. Many of the great­est minds, like Vir­ginia Woolf, Win­ston Churchill and Leonardo da Vinci used stand­ing desks, I say. (Ad­mit­tedly, there wouldn’t have been too many er­gonomic mar­ble slabs in da Vinci’s days.)

When I stand be­fore my work, I con­tinue bor­ingly, it means I’m lean­ing in. I chan­nel the greats when I stand be­fore the key­board, like a cap­tain at the helm. I con­trol the keys, I com­mand the words and I set the dead­line be­cause I know I have to fin­ish be­fore my legs re­volt and de­mand a re­turn to 20th-cen­tury com­fort.

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