“I haven’t sat down in a chair to work for 12 months now. I am a programmer. I work in a rural area, in the Cevennes Mountains the south of France.” That’s how Benoit Pereira da Silva (@bpereiradasilva) introduces himself, with a quiet air of self-assurance, on the stage at Lift France. His title is displayed on the presentation screen behind him: “walker-programmer” – a post-modern take on the “hunter gatherer.”
Image: Benoit Perira da Silva striding across the stage at Lift France.
The chair is a killer
“Walking upright is one of the essential physical characteristics of homo sapiens and of a few other species,” “Our bipedal nature is as permanent as that of an ostrich,” explains Pereira da Silva, with a touch of the anthropologist about him. “Our bodies and our cognitive capabilities work in the same manner as those of our ancestors. Our body is formed, physiologically speaking, over an evolutionary timescale and not over the timescale of technological change or the timescales over which our modern lifestyles can be transformed.” Therefore even though our computing technologies have progressed exponentially, our cognitive capabilities haven’t evolved in parallel.
What about our physical capabilities? Benoit Pereira da Silva presents an amusing graph where he demonstrates the change, over time, in his cognitive capability (stable and unchanging), the processing power of the computers that he uses, and his weight. Nothing could be more constant than his weight gain up until 2013, when he started walking as he worked.
“We are no longer constantly upright, walking on two feet. We spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, even though our body is designed to walk constantly, adapted to the active lifestyle of hunter gatherers,” he explains, striding constantly across the stage from left to right, never stopping, as though the fact that he is walking now is the best way to convince us of this fact. For him, this shift is the sign of a fundamental problem, a disconnect between our lifestyles and our way of working and our biological rhythms. “Workers in the digital economy are all sitting down in front of their desks. Our bodies are getting fatter. Our lymphatic system is losing its way. Cancer and cardiovascular problems are becoming more common. The chair is a killer.”
Image: Benoit da Silva on his treadmill in his office.
An order of the European Court made in 2013 came as a reminder that every worker was entitled to access to a height-adjustable table to allow them to work standing up. Nevertheless, most office workers spend their working lives in a seated position, at least eight hours each day. For the developer and health activist, it is imperative to align the radical transformation in our lifestyles with our biological reality. It is a public health priority. In 2009, he heard about offices where people worked standing up, and had read testimonials from IT professionals who had gone from working upright to working while walking, by adding a treadmill. He read the essay of Frederic Gros entitled “A philosophy of walking.” He had read the works of Dr James Levine, who had just published “Get Up,” which tells the story of his struggle against the seated position. Inspired by their experiences and unhappy with his weight gain, Benoit decided to start working upright, then obtained a treadmill so that he would always walk while working.
Increasing revenue per kilometer walked
“Walking requires gentle, sustained effort. It actively discourages working in ‘fits.'” (This refers to practices that require short, intense bursts of effort like running – Ed.) Walking is a slow activity that takes place over a long timescale. It’s an unconscious, background activity that makes you hungry and tires you out, improves your circulation and tones your muscles. Unlike other sporting activities, it allows you to be active without becoming obsessive.” Benoit has lost 20 kilos [45 lbs] without any special diet or exercise regime, just by walking while he works. He has rediscovered cycles of deep sleep. Hunger. Walking also limited the length of his working day His limits of physical exhaustion matched up with the required length of a working day, approximately eight hours.
Nonetheless, walking indoors on a treadmill wasn’t completely satisfying. His role as a consultant meant that he could devote time to carrying out an experiment. He imagined a mobile office to enable him to walk across the fields and along pathways. With the support of his partners, Benoit Pereira da Silva began to design an all-terrain mobile office that would be able to meet its own needs for power. After several prototypes, he designed an office complete with a remote camera to share his experience. He developed a complex device, equipped with a cart to carry a battery and a solar panel to provide electricity. In total, the device is quite heavy: 50kg, of which 25kg is carried by the cart (video). This summer, he walked 100km in the Cevennes mountains.
“As many companies make use of dashboards, I implemented a dashboard of my own” On his treadmill, Benoit walks at 3 km/h and completes 20 to 30km per day. He has walked 6,333 km on his treadmill since 2013, including 4,111 km in 2014. He walks for eight hours per day on average. He has walked while working for 333 days out of 452 since July 25th, 2013. He uses the Pulse tracker by Withings to count his steps and measure his pulse and the time he spends asleep. Last week he took 271,000 steps, which translates to approximately 207 km. He produces a journal of psychometric and physiological data using Hours Tracker (a tool to measure his working time and generate invoices for his clients), as well as data produced by his treadmill and his Withings connected weighing scale to monitor his weight and data from Sloccount to measure the number of lines of code he creates. He has the ability to measure his “Revenue per kilometer walked.” This figure is increasing. For him, the results are strikingly positive. His weight, his sleep and his work: all seem to be under control.
The walker-developer concludes that the future of work means imagining ways to become more compatible with our biological reality. We need to envisage walking corridors for making calls, open spaces equipped with treadmills, pedestrian circuits, parks and compounds for walking workers, a workplace made up of fields and pathways: the prototypes that he and others imagine show that the mobile office still has some way to go until it is perfected. We still need to invent mobile desks, the correct ‘office clothes’ for walking, the immersive systems, the voice-controlled interfaces for interaction, and employers need to increase their interest,” he insists. “It is our duty to invent, to experiment, to test, to incubate ideas, to work smarter, to imagine open systems to create the tools at an affordable price,” he explains, inviting the audience to join the community of walking workers. Walking, and the fact of being upright, is what makes us human. As we just said, our tools cannot be allowed to let us forget our physicality.”
This article was originally published in french on www.internetactu.net