David Sax, from The Future Is Analog

“The ideas that come to our mind are around curiosity, creativity, exploration, which come to you when you’re out and moving around,” said Joseph White, the director of workplace futures and insight at the office furniture company Herman Miller. White is a professional fabric designer (he owns a loom), who moved from Brooklyn to Buffalo in the midst of the pandemic, but the longer he worked remotely, the more White noticed how much physical, sensory information his work was lacking. He missed wandering around the rambling Herman Miller campus in Michigan, moving his body, walking between buildings, touching, seeing, and even smelling the company’s different ideas as they took shape in wood, plastic, metal, and fabric. “I used to work from a dozen different spots throughout the day,” White said. “Now I look at the same piece of art all day. I miss the variety of experience. My mind connects to concepts like embodied cognition — our mind connects to the world around us, and by the process of moving around it, we get information that we’re not consciously aware of, and have meaning. We lose that when we’re stuck in the same place over and over again.” Working from home was pitched as liberating, but as my neighbor Lauren discovered each day, glued to her desk, it can easily become a type of incarceration. “[Remote work] degrades the human experience,” White said. “I worry about sensory atrophy. I worry about curiosity, because as soon as curiosity ends, that is the beginning of death.” 

Hmmm. I have some questions: 

  1. Joseph White says he “used to work from a dozen different spots throughout the day” but at home works at one spot. Has he thought about moving around? Maybe working elsewhere in his house, or going to a coffee shop? 
  2. Does White think that most workers have the freedom to work from a dozen different spots in their workplace? 
  3. Or, to put essentially the same question another way: Where are we more likely to be “glued to a desk,” at the office or at home? 
  4. How has White shaped his home life such that his home afflicts him with “sensory atrophy” and “the end of curiosity”? Maybe he could rearrange his furniture or something. 
  5. If we have families at home, then the more analog and connected our work lives are, the more virtual and disconnected our family lives will be; and vice versa. But is it obvious that it’s more important for us to be connected to our co-workers than to our families? That might be great for Capitalism, but not so great for Humans.