The Devolution of the Desk

I saw this video about “the evolution of the desk” the other day, via the Harvard Innovation Lab (it’s from Best Reviews here). It takes you through how all the things that used to sit on a desk now sit on the laptop in the middle of the desk, and the rest of the desk is clear. Something bothered me about it at the time, and I couldn’t work out what it was. But talking about it today, I realised that it’s because I’ve never seen a desk that someone is using that has nothing but the laptop on it. The perfect endpoint they describe isn’t actually true, which I think undermines the point they’re trying to make about work today versus work in 1981.

What I see much more of is how people use a blend of working methods, across physical and digital workspaces, to hack together systems that work for them. Sure, they devolve some of the responsibility to computer-based systems, but not all. It makes me wonder how much the hot-desking revolution, where you can sit anywhere with just your computer, actually robs organisations who implement it of some useful forms of working.