Stand up desks are becoming quite hip, even making it onto an episode of The Office.
And speaking of hips (and, indeed, lower backs), I cured a persistent
pain issue by standing to type for 2/3 of my day/night work hours. The
evidence seems conclusive that sitting all day is terrible for your
lumbar spine, increases the risk of heart disease and piles on the pounds like you’ve done on a Kansas City barbecue-only diet.
thing that’s also for sure, although often overlooked, is that standing
to write is nothing new. Thomas Jefferson designed a six-legged
standing desk, the extra pegs adding stability. The great British
statesman Benjamin Disraeli, like many of his Victorian age, preferred
to be on his feet when writing. And, though he far preferred dictation
as his primary composition method, Disraeli’s countryman and fellow
prime minister, Winston Churchill, followed suit when he picked up his
And elevated desks have not been confined to the offices of heads of state. Ernest Hemingway
considered it soft to sit (OK, I have NO basis for that, but I can
imagine him growling something similar) and, before him, Charles Dickens
and Virginia Woolf scrawled away at a standing desk. More recent
proponents include Philip Roth.
I believe that beyond banishing my lower back/hip misery, standing to
write has enabled me to work late into the night without feeling
fatigued or needing the dubious pleasure of a late-night double
espresso, a Faustian bargain if ever there was one. It is only in the
past 100 years that we’ve been taught that if you’re writing, you should
be sitting. Many older British and American universities still have
standing desks in their libraries, and pictures of 19th century offices
show sit/stand combo desks. Apparently we don’t get smarter over time,
at least in this case.
I’m interested to find out
more about the sociological and workplace culture factors behind the
move away from standing in the years between then and now. Why has it
taken so long to rediscover the truth that hunching over at a desk for
40 hours a week (or, in the case of we few who toil into the wee hours
on our books and articles, a lot more) is far from a good idea, and that
standing can boost productivity and, arguably, longevity.
The Hubris of the Intellectual Turncoat
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