Emma is in poor health. She has painful varicose veins, stress-related eczema, puffy skin, a grey complexion, red eyes and a hunch-back. She is an imagined office worker of the future — a morbid life-sized doll that forecasts the impact of office work on human evolution. According researchers at Fellowes, if we don’t do something, Emma could resemble most of your colleagues in 20-years time.

Indeed, Emma embodies the evolutionary impact of our current work culture on the human body. Apparently, our humble office chairs are the biggest culprits - all together we spend an average of eight years of our life sitting down, which will gradually disfigure our bodies and weaken our muscles permanently. Additionally, trading sunlight for artificial light will lead to poor vision and chronic vitamin deficiency. This information may not be new, but being confronted with Emma certainly is.

How can we avoid this fate? Fellowes’ research suggests radical changes to our current ways of working. This means more walk-and-talk meetings, regular breaks, spaces in the office for exercise and relaxation, as well as different types of desks and work spaces that support our bodies.

This hyper-real rendering of a future office protagonist may indeed shock us into action. Emma also serves as a stark reminder of how, as much as we like to think we can use technology to shape the world around us for our needs, technology itself plays an active role in shaping us. How natural is it to sit in an office chair, staring at a computer for eight hours a day?

This story of evolution reveals how intertwined nature and technology can be, how our interactions with the things we make can literally transform our physicality, intervene in our development and influence the ‘natural’ biological processes of our bodies. We can no longer underestimate how, in some cases, we serve technology just as much as it serves us. 

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