human biology vs. the modern work environment

July 18, 2012

Once upon a time, I was talking to a friend about some of the more popular utopian sci-fi worlds, particularly, the world of the Jetsons in which we were predicted to have primitive robot maids, apartments in the sky, vacations on a lunar base or a city on Mars, and 30 hour work weeks for even the most workaholic nations. As we discussed the likelihood of all this happening in the near future, she brought up a point about George Jetson I didn’t even bother to consider. If he was a real person who lived the way all residents of his future do, he should weigh a ton, literally. His lifestyle isn’t even sedentary, it’s stationary! Everywhere he goes there are moving walkways, escalators, elevators, hover-pods, and so on and do forth. The man only needs to lift a finger to eat and that’s actually not always the case. And considering his near-constant immobility and certain morbid obesity, he, as well as every other typical resident of the future, would contribute to private and public healthcare budgets that would soar into the hundreds and hundreds of trillions, dying between two years and two decades early.

Don’t just take my word for it. A recent study shows that a sedentary lifestyle costs two years of your life and at least every twenty minutes, you’ll need to get up and walk around to mitigate the ill effects of sitting still. No matter if you put in an hour a day three to five days per week at the gym as doctors recommend, a job in which you sit at a desk, or wheel, or a machine, all day is going to be detrimental to your health. Trouble is, it’s not as if you can just excuse yourself from the typical hour long meeting or an intense assignment to go stretch. This is simply not how white collar jobs are designed. So what about blue collar workers who get to stand most of their day and move around on a regular basis? Why don’t we re-finagle our cubicles and offices to allow more mobility and require less time that our rear ends press down into our seat cushions? Well, there’s a problem with that too because standing too long and too much causes joint pain. So we’re back to the 20 minute break schedule that’s downright impossible for most workers, from mail room interns to CEOs if we want to live just a few years longer. Guess that’s another argument for why cubicles are pure evil and humans don’t belong in them and why we shouldn’t be standing in the same few spots on an assembly line year in, year out…

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  • Clearly the Jetsons mastered the diet pill.

  • venqax

    Excellent and too often overlooked point, Jamie. Why is it we have this great faith in technology to solve some problems, yet rock-bottom to no expectations when it comes to others? Yes, indeed it would seem entirely reasonable to expect that a society advanced enough to produce the Jestson’s world would also have come up with a SOLUTION to obesity that did not involve life-style choices any more than simply not living in cold places and wearing parkas all the time was the solution to heating living spaces. There has to be some drug that would simply prevent weight gain, regardless of caloric intake and with livable side effects. Likewise, why isn’t there more pressure to CURE lung cancer, instead of all the emphasis being on smoking cessation? What a cop out! Then people could actually enjoy smoking again, like normal. :).

    But, we just let technology and science off the hook for these things. I think the blindspot for tech expectations began with Star Trek: The Next Generation. No one asked why and why science capable of molecularly transporting human bodies, and of interstellar, warp-speed travel had somehow not managed to conquer male-pattern baldness. I mean, first things first.

  • Greg Fish

    Likewise, why isn’t there more pressure to CURE lung cancer, instead of all the emphasis being on smoking cessation?

    Cancers are really complex due to the fact that the same tumor could have more than one malicious mutation and each mutant strain in its could respond quite differently to surgery and chemo, curing them isn’t as simple as just ratcheting the pressure on the researchers to discover a cure.

    Smoking cessation, on the other hand, prevents people from having many possible cancers. This way, they don’t have to suffer through a disease in the first place. It would be worth not to smoke even if we did have a cure for lung cancer the same way that it’s preferable to drive safely even though we can attach a new arm or leg to your body should you lose it.

  • venqax

    All true. I was only half serious, but the whole thing does recall the old vaudeville routine:

    Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this!

    Doctor>: Well then don’t do that!

    Maybe the water-vapor cigarettes are step toward a “safe” smoke. But, really– they can disassemble and reassamble every molecule in body with a transporter, but can’t keep your hair folicles alive? Come on!

  • Paul451

    “No one asked […] why science capable of molecularly transporting human bodies, and of interstellar, warp-speed travel had somehow not managed to conquer male-pattern baldness.”

    Many asked. Patrick Stewart’s response was that “they are medically advanced enough to cure baldness, but socially advanced enough not to care.”

  • venqax

    Yes, I’ve heard that but never found Stewart’s response convincing or even relevant since he wasn’t a writer/creator of the show or of the Star Trek “universe”. Really, he thinks vanity is going to disappear? Where are the other baldies in the far future? The port-wine birthmarks, harmless hairlips and acne-ridden? Those are, after all, conditions of only cosmetic consequence as well. They give the androids full heads of hair with nice straight hairlines! LOL (I know, Data was supposed to look just like his creator– guess that answers the vanity question!)