Neil Wills: Surfer's

September 2001
The great seating conspiracy
Previous surfings

Comment on this column TIME WAS WHEN FLYING LIZARDS contented themselves with making cover versions of Beatles songs (it's all right: if you don't remember, you weren't there). Now, according to the British goalkeeper-turned-prophet David Icke, nothing less than total control of the world will slake their thirst for power.

What I love about conspiracy theories is that they make so much sense while at the same time being utterly laughable. In so many instances the ludicrousness of the proposal is laced with an undeniable scent of plausibility. Furthermore, with so many conspiracy theories knocking about, by the law of averages one or two of them must actually be true....

...which means that there is at least an outside chance that what you are about to read in the next 600 words may not be as far-fetched as it undoubtedly is. And anyway, if you do end up rubbishing it, you are obviously part of the conspiracy and should be ashamed of yourself.

LET ME TAKE YOU BACK to 1895, when cinema first opened its doors to a wondering public. Soon, venues seating hundreds were packing them in to watch the Derby, Queen Victoria's funeral and thin men in suits accidentally knocking each other into canals.

Fast on the movie moguls' heels came Gugliemo Marconi and his continually oscillating wave. As early as the 1920s it had become de rigueur in the British Isles, even in remote farming communities, to spend at least some part of each evening sitting down around the wireless to listen to London calling.

The next leap was taken by John Logie Baird, and/or whoever else is currently being fêted for being the inventor of the television. From the very start, the little people in the box in the corner glued us to our seats – once the set had warmed up, that is. No matter that, as Patrick McGoohan so wryly observed, "television is called a medium because it is neither rare nor well done," we all too readily took on the exacting role of TV junkies and the phrase "to spend the evening slumped in front of the telly" found its way into our vocabulary.

Starting to see the connection? Then you'll have no trouble in recognising the Internet as the rather inevitable next step in a devilishly clever plan. Such has been our fascination with the Web that we are not content to explore its endless byways for an hour here and there but we purchase phone packages that make it affordable to pass whole eras at our desks tapping and clicking away.

SO, LET US UNMASK these Machiavellian puppeteers whose final triumph is to see us chained to the machine. They are, of course, none other than the manufacturers of chairs. How so? You will notice that with each revolution there has been a new sort of seat to accommodate the viewer.

First came the cinema seat. Then, when folk found that long hours listening to the radio on hard dining-chairs was unduly taxing, they discovered the need to purchase so-called easy chairs. Television introduced the settee, a sort of hybrid armchair/cinema seat; and now what home is complete without a fantastically expensive swivel-chair for use online?

What is so brilliant about this plan is that the issues raised by each technology revolve around the content of the media themselves and not the blindingly obvious "coincidence" that in each case we have to sit down to partake of them. Any angst is directed at dumbing down and the general corruption of society, not at sitting down and the general corrosion of muscular tissue.

What, then, is to be done? First, do not be tempted to throw the baby out with the virtual bathwater: the problem is not with the Web but with the posture you assume while surfing. Rather than buying a special chair, try interacting with your computer while standing up, lying down or hanging from the ceiling in a Tom Cruise/Mission Impossible style.

If you are a lizard, of course, you will be able to sit on your tail, and this brings us to my second theory. (Continued next month. Possibly.)

This column first appeared in Third Way magazine. Third Way 2001

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