Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Why We Spend Such a Lot of Time at Our Desks

I am sometimes gently chided for spending a lot of time at my desk. It's certainly true, but whereas the implication is that I should be doing something more worthwhile or undertaking some more social activity, the truth is that so much takes place on one's computer these days that it's very difficult to avoid being on it a great deal.

Take ordinary correspondence, for instance. That has almost entirely migrated to the computer, either on e-mail or as typed out letters or printing one's photographs to send as postcards. And it's easy to forget the amount of time our parents devoted to handwritten correspondence; their accumulated letters attest to this, and most of it was written at a writing desk. And of course, those letters required time to stamp and post as well, and a visit to the post office would count as a social activity.

Almost everything that once took time at post office and bank counters can now be done on one's computer. Our parents paid bills by writing cheques and posting them off. There were no standing orders or direct debits so they had to write a cheque for each bill. Of course they bought their tax discs at the counter and collected their pensions there too. All were potentially social activities - as I discovered when collecting my father's pension; the woman behind the counter clearly loved his visits! Now all are done on line and that social interaction is lost, as it certainly doesn't occur at one's desk!

Many hobbies too have moved to the computer. All desk-based hobbies certainly, except perhaps jigsaw puzzles (though even they can be replicated there). Of course tinkering with motorcycle engines in the garage or collecting stamps will always be un-computerised, but they were hardly social activities either. And for some people computer games have become a completely new and absorbing hobby. In fact, computer games are often quite social as they can be played against someone else. And some people play bridge and chess on line with others across the world with great enjoyment.

My hobby of photography, which I have pursued since the early 70s, used to result in many trips to Boots to get films developed, and much time spent pasting the better photographs into albums and writing captions. And both were at least partly a social activity as the choice of photos to be preserved was probably something to be discussed on the sofa, rather than alone in one's study looking at a computer screen while simultaneously editing the photos and uploading them to Flickr.

Keeping up with family and friends too, which once involved postcards, letters and expensive phone calls is now the preserve of Skype and Facebook.

Dealing with banking, insurance and investments is also now a largely on-line occupation, but they were usual solitary actives anyway. Catching up with the news and listening to music are also less social than they used to be with the TV and hi-fi, though the totally new pastime of watching videos on YouTube is often a shared activity.

So much of what we used to do that once involved at least some social interaction has moved onto one's desktop, and new ways of keeping in touch have developed to such an extent that the use of letters, postcards and the telephone have declined dramatically.

And one could probably say that social interaction at home has diminished, but by much less than is commonly thought given the number of activities that were always solitary. But we would do well to mind the chiding, nevertheless!

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