Modern life is all about short cuts. Labour-saving inventions to save us time and effort. Time and effort that can be used for something else, be it work or leisure.
Let’s go back to the 80s. My gran’s TV was a fascinating machine. It was out of this magic box would spill our daily hour of children’s telly, and give the adults a break. My gran would sit with us in ‘her chair’, but would often be sleeping before the hour was out.
The TV went as far back as it did from side to side (no flat screen goodness), had a wooden surround and channels that were changed by way of four physical buttons – BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and ITV2. There wasn’t an ITV2 when the TV was made of course, but the expectation was that there soon would be.
The TV set was also made before the advent of the remote control. Nowadays, having to peel yourself off the sofa mid-box set binge is only necessary when the batteries in the remote run out.
There are myriad other innovations, inventions and gadgets that relieve us of the need to exert ourselves more than the minimum – a plethora of appliances, vehicles and tools to give us more valuable time to, well, what? Hopefully to get out and walk the dog. Maybe hunt errant Pokemon? I fear that much of our saved time though is spent doing not very much, something squarely in sedentary territory.
Many modern appliances like our washing machines and dishwashers would be greatly missed by many and I wouldn’t want to suggest that such progress is bad, but inevitably the labour that we are saved is mostly physical and so naturally, the modern human has less need to expend as many calories. And do we balance things out with exercise? Not enough is the answer.
Talking of appliances, we can see with one appliance, the vacuum cleaner, how progression has gone from labour-saving to just plain lazy. Vacuuming used to require a fair few runs over the same patch of carpet before you’d suggest it was clean. Returning to my gran for a moment, I remember her having a vacuum cleaner that weighed a ton and picked up far less. Using it was a real workout. Vacuum cleaner technology improved and time taken to clean was reduced. Cordless cleaners then saved us from unplugging the appliance and plugging it back in in each room, saving more time again. And now, we have the automatic vacuum cleaner. One can purchase something that looks like an over-sized hockey puck that will go off on its own and clean your floors (and scare your cat). So, we have the vacuuming equivalent of the remote control. A device that requires no effort bar changing batteries.
This is not a technology blog though (much as my inner geek would love it to be). I’m writing about labour-saving inventions as these have given us back time, but taken away a need to be as physically active. With mobile phones and email we can communicate from wherever we are. With modern transport we can (painfully slowly at times) get to where we want with minimal waggling of lazy legs. As adults our working practices are often bound to desks and children now are increasingly exposed to screen-based entertainment that has the power to transfix them into a quiet stupor (an understandably appealing prospect to tired parent).
So, while the need to be physically active to achieve everyday tasks is diminishing, the need to be active for the sake of our heart and our mind (exercising less is not good for your mental health either) is not. From ever more regular media reports we know all about the dangerous obesity levels in the Western world and while there are a number of sports that can help fight the flab and keep your heart healthy, there are smaller, simple ways that you can make a difference too. For us bees in the modern office hive, sitting down for eight hours is dangerous to our health.
Try getting off that seat and going to another office to talk to a colleague. Revolutionary, I know. As quick as an email or call is, meeting face to face makes for a better interaction AND might involve a few more valuable calories burned. Also, if you drive or take a bus to work, park further away or get off a few stops early if you can. You probably won’t lose much time, but you will lose incremental inches. And last of all, don’t take the lift unless you a) physically can’t manage stairs or b) work in a skyscraper.
The average person in the UK walks about half a mile a day. Thirty years ago this was two thirds of a mile. Advances in technology invariably mean needing to move less to get by, meaning we’re on a collision course with heart problems, diabetes and more unless we take steps (literally and figuratively) to counter the real threat inherent in spending too long standing still.