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“Emma”, the Malformed Office Worker of the Future, Is My Nightmare

Emma was created to show the effects of sitting all day. She seems nice enough. But she scares the shit out of me.


I think about the side-effects of sitting at a desk all day — oh, five times an hour.. The human body isn’t designed to remain stationary for long periods of time. A lot of bad things happen but one of the worst is a severely hunched-over posture that screws up one’s back and neck and could lead to a future where us desk workers are horrifically malformed creatures with bulbous necks, spines hooked like shepherd staffs, and heads unable to look up to the sky. It terrifies me.

Well, I don’t have to live in a prison of my own mind anymore. Because I was recently introduced to the horrifying, stoop-backed, thin-legged, frock-wearing “Emma.” Created by British office equipment company Fellowes in a marketing scheme designed to get companies to buy their ergonomic chairs, Emma is part of the “Work Colleague of the Future” report. She is meant to look like the malformed desk worker who didn’t sit in a proper chair or, it looks like, step outside once for a long lunch: Emma has a permanently hunched back and a head and neck that look like they were attached by a malfunctioning machine as well as varicose veins, the result of the lack of blood flow from two decades of sitting, and red marks on her arms from leaning on a hot laptop all day. Emma’s eyes, conditioned to staring at a computer screen, are so bloodshot she looks like she just returned from a five-day bender in Bucharest.

Now, Emma, who was introduced by her male creator, is doing her best. She has a business casual dress, shiny hair, and lovely necklace. She’s also extending her hand outwards and has a nice smile so her office’s health care provider, while seemingly devoid of any sort of physical therapy, has a nice dental plan.

The “Work Colleague of the Future”, which was led by Behavioral Futurist William Higham and collected responses from more than 3,000 office workers in the U.K., revealed that nearly 50 percent of all workers suffer from such afflictions as headaches as well as sore legs, backs, and eyes — maladies almost certainly the result of sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer screen all day. Poor Emma is the worst-case scenario: Researchers built her as a visual representation of all these issues and cranked up the severity, a process that reminds me of the great bit on The Simpsons where the dentist shows a slide show of what will happen to Lisa’s teeth if she doesn’t get braces, the last slide of which shows her fang-like teeth puncturing through her face.

Let’s not let Emma’s sacrifice go to waste. Take her as a reminder to ask your office for an ergonomic chair as well as to stretch at home, exercise regularly, and take breaks during the day to offset the effects of sitting. As for Emma, she seems congenial enough that I’m sure she’ll be a fine office mate. Look at how friendly she appears. And perhaps we can set her up with “Graham”, a similar human rendering created by researchers to demonstrate what a person who could survive a car accident might look like. He’s a durable, bulbous guy with an enormous skull, reinforced bones, and knees that can move in all directions. Maybe these two crazy kids can grab a drink.