My father-in-law accidentally sent my husband and me a pedometer.  It’s an unusual thing to receive by accident, but it`s been positively providential because I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between movement and switching-on.  It’s fascinating, although quite logical, that in this technologically driven age of ours, we would have a device to help us keep track of that most elemental of human activities:  moving.

The connection between moving and switching-on has been on my mind of late for a couple of reasons.  First, fairly early on in this research, I concluded that movement is a key characteristic of fun.  Whether people were describing fun to me, or I was doing ethnographic observations of fun, or just reflecting on fun in my own life, movement was everywhere.  Often, people described this in terms of their own movement, like dancing, hiking, rafting or simply walking, but we can also experience a lot of fun simply observing movement, whether it’s watching athletics, or the exploding light of fireworks, or even dogs chasing each other in the park.  This is not to say that all movement is fun, but rather that many things that are fun involve movement.

So if movement is a key part of fun, and therefore a way to switch-on, what are we to make of the fact that we live in perhaps the most sedentary society that has ever existed?  This aspect of our life has been starkly brought home to me in the last few days as I’ve been reading a fantastic essay by Herbert Collins, first published in 1954, called, appropriately enough, The Sedentary Society.*  I have to confess that I haven’t finished it yet, but what I’ve read has been enough to make me sit up (in my chair) and take notice.  Collins argues that “sitting is the symbolic posture of the age of science and technology” and that “a whole philosophy lies concealed in the act of sitting.”  Sitting is the posture of scientific inquiry, technology and rational organization, and “the man in demand is the sedentary, contemplative, but worldly fellow adept at figures [and] literate.”  Sitting reigns, and is associated with aspirational forms of work like banking or the professions.  This is now so entirely taken-for-granted that it’s useful that Collins reminds us that it wasn’t always like this.  Artisans, merchant-adventurers, field explorers…there were plenty of orientations to work – and fascinating, successful work at that – that didn’t have sitting at their core.  However, these occupations, Collins notes, seem quaint now.

And this was in 1954!  How much more sedentary have we become since then?!  Collins wrote those words before every family owned a TV, let alone gaming systems, DVDs and remote controls.  Before it was the norm to own a car.  Before schools paved over or sold off playgrounds and swimming pools.  Before personal computers.  Before Facebook and blogging.

We are used to measuring the impact of being sedentary in rather mechanistic terms:  because we don’t move enough, we are getting fatter; because we are getting fatter, we are less healthy, etc.  But perhaps we need to be looking at the impact of our sedentary life on our joy and fun as well?  And, following the argument of switching-on, to our very sense of feeling alive, and the happiness, flexibility, well-being and creativity that come with that feeling?

I recall reading Bruce Chatwin’s beautiful book The Songlines when I was in my twenties, and being moved by his passionate belief that as a species, humans are born to move.  Cribbing from the site Goodreads, I find the following Chatwin quotes, “My God is the God of Walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.”  “Sluggish and sedentary peoples, such as the Ancient Egyptians– with their concept of an afterlife journey through the Field of Reeds– project on to the next world the journeys they failed to make in this one.”  “Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.”  Here was a man who believed in movement.

Which brings me back to my little pedometer.  I have been seated as I write this, but soon I will get up and walk.  The walk may or may not be fun, but perhaps it will help create the conditions for fun elsewhere in my day.  A few steps in the right direction.


* I have tried to find online references to this terrific essay, but have not yet had much luck.  I’ve been reading it in Mass Leisure (1958), edited by Eric Larrabee and Rolf Myerson, and there is reference to it first being published in The Scientific Monthly, Volume 79, Number 5, (November 1954), pp. 285-292.