Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Labouring to keep the body fit for labour
Thursday, November 19, 2020 | Adina Glickstein
Inevitably distracted from the writing task at hand by the tension in my neck, I find myself in a new tab where the phrase “Why is the Aeron chair so expensive?” auto-completes in my search engine. My resentment towards the obligation to work beyond the limitations of my bodily capacity is directed at this object: a top-of-the-line office chair designed by Herman Miller, wrapped up in the legacies of Modernist design and “human factors engineering.” The chair’s glistening curvature promises to cradle one’s wrist, delivering it to the keyboard at an angle so comfortable, one could type forever. It takes on the form of a luxury exoskeleton: rising to meet the body in a perfectly-structured caress. But like a skeleton, in its support, it also constrains. The Aeron is a metonym for ergonomics more broadly, a discipline founded on offloading the responsibility for a systemic problem—the strain of repetitive labour, be it at a desk or on a factory line—onto the individual worker. The fantasy of reprieve offered by the ergonomic chair placates the drive for revolution; labour feeds neatly into purchasing power, entitling the work-weary to rest their behinds and indulge in an individualized, market-based solution.