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. gmail.com