It’s been more than two years since I was hired at my first job. I have a standard office job, where my coworkers and I spend most of our time in offices, seated in chairs and facing computer screens. Over this time, I’ve noticed a few unsettling patterns and common traits that older coworkers show. There seem to be similar same changes to both their physical and health.

The changes to my coworkers’ bodies were the easiest to spot:

  • Office waddle: the sideways, rather than up-and-down head bobbing that can be seen in long-time office dwellers. Possibly from hip pain due to disuse and inactivity, combined with increased physical load from office space.
  • Office hump: a question-mark shaped curve that shows up in the upper back between the neck and head. Maybe also caused by bad posture when sitting in front of computer screen for long periods.
  • Office space: generally increased mass, maybe from long periods of inactivity in front of computer screens, plus diet of fast food and vending machine snacks.
  • Office cough: repetitive, persistent coughing or throat-clearing, maybe caused by lack of vigorous activity. Describing outdoor air as "fresh air" is a bit deceptive. Each liter of air holds uncounted pollen grains, mold spores and microscopic road dust, suspended by turbulent flows from wind. If exposed to these innocuous irritants regularly, a functioning immune system will normally learn to ignore them. However, many office-dwellers are exposed only during their trip between car and office, resulting in a nagging morning cough.

Aside from the physical changes I see, there are some psychological changes too:

  • Office laugh: tendency to laugh at whatever statement others offer, whether it is meant as a joke or not. For example, I heard this dialogue between my office mate and one of her friends after he stopped in to visit her.

    “I think my friend wants to take some courses at EDU University.”

    “Ha ha ha, it’s my alma mater!”

    This also happens when simply giving information, apparently in the form of a punch line.

    “Where do we pick up extra office supplies if we run out?”

    “Oh, go ask Ramona upstairs? She handles the supplies?

  • Office chirp: making an upwards pitch change at the end of each sentence, as if asking a question. Somewhat confusing, especially when applied to statements.

    “Hi, I’m Jessica?

    “Yes, it was finished earlier today?

    “My software isn’t working?

  • Office monologue: offering a detailed description of recent events occurring in the past few hours as conversation. This will include a thorough listing of every minor event and detail, however irrelevant. It will also lack any questions for the listener (or victim) to answer, leaving them as an entirely passive participant.

    “I was 10 minutes late, since there was too much traffic on I-000. On the tollway, I had to dig out change from my left pocket, but the coins were stuck in my wallet fold. Those coins weren’t enough, so I had to reach into my right pocket for extra. I thought there were extra coins in my right pocket, but there weren’t any. So then I had to use some of the emergency reserve coins from the coin-dispenser under the stereo. Plus, there were too many red lights on Main Street, and got stuck making a left turn at King Avenue. Good thing there was some great music on KZZZ, they always have great music. Then I couldn’t reach the ticket dispenser in the parking structure entrance since I didn’t pull up close enough, and had to open the door and get out. I think that Bob from downstairs must always get in early, since I see his car in one of the spaces near the entrance every morning. . .”

What will it take to maintain my physical and psychological health in this place? It seems like getting more outdoor physical activity while remaining conscious of the way I interact with others will go a long way in preventing these changes. Ha ha ha, time to get some potato chips?

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