The translating community is abuzz with what is called the dangers of sedentary lifestyle.
It seems that translators are buying in droves a special desk that makes it possible to type and work in front of a computer while standing up. Hmm…..
Based on my informal research conducted secretly on social media, especially Facebook, women in particular seem to be interested in such a desk, almost as much as in yoga, although not as much as they are interested for instance in pictures of sunsets, babies and cute dogs wearing sunglasses and hats and such. I remember that I was watching on YouTube a video of two female translators demonstrating the advantages of this wonderful new desk a couple of months ago, which costs only about 500 dollars plus tax for the cheaper, plain vanilla version!
But not really because I would be interested in wasting my money on the desk, as I mostly wanted to see what my colleagues look like …. so that I could recognize them should I run into them one day at conference or something, OK?
According to Lifespanfitness.com, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases, and physical inactivity may increase the risks of certain cancers, it may contribute to anxiety and depression, it has been shown to be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases, etc. Note the judicious use of modifiers (“may”, “has been shown”).
In some professions, you simply have to work while mostly standing up. Opera singers, for example, have to sing while standing up (otherwise they could not pull off the high notes), but they get a long break when they can sit down during a long intermission as the opera audience is mingling, or sipping a glass of wine while standing or sitting at the bar. I bet opera singers mostly sit down during the intermission.
Walmart clerks have to stand up for about 8 hours a day while they interact with customers for 7 dollars and 25 cents an hour. Or maybe it is 8 dollars now, but probably not 8 dollars and 25 cents. They get only two 20-minute breaks when they can sit down. I know that because I asked one last month.
Circus elephants are also forced to stand up by their trainers to the delight of children and adults who came to see things like elephants standing up on their hind legs. Because they are elephants, they can’t do it for a very long time, but the audience is always happily clapping every time when elephants are made to stand up.
I have been sitting on my derrière in every job I ever had since 1980 when I graduated from university (Charles University in Prague, with a degree in Japanese and English studies), and I like the fact that I can sit on my derrière when I work, or even lie down on a couch just fine, thank you very much.
I bet opera singers and Walmart clerks would not mind at all if they could plop down in a comfortable, reclining chair while they work, and elephants must absolutely hate it when they are forced to stand up by their trainers, which just might be the reason why they sometime trample them to death, an act that is much easier to accomplish than standing on your hind (or front) legs when you happen to be an elephant.
Let’s face it, when you are an opera singer, a Walmart clerk or a circus elephant, you don’t have a whole lot of choices. You simply have to do what they tell you to do and keep your mouth shut (or open in the case of the opera singer). A Walmart clerk who would dare to ask for a chair to sit in while working would get fired, and I don’t even want to think what they might do to a disobedient elephant who refuses to stand up on his hind legs, which must be torture for an elephant.
But unlike elephants and minimum wage workers, translators can choose how they work. I think that we translators should try to be a little bit more appreciative of what we have, and the fact that we don’t have to stand up while we translate is one of the advantages of our occupation.
Although translating may not even look like work to civilians who don’t know much about translation, just pecking or banging on a keyboard, which is not that different from a child playing a video game, translating is difficult and complicated work. And when your work is difficult and complicated, you want to be as comfortable as possible.
Standing up will make you tired after a short while, and when you are tired, the neurons in your brain are likely to misfire more frequently, causing frequent mistranslations. I can translate on my laptop when I am comfortably lying on my sofa, but I could not translate standing up.
So I have designed my own strategy for dealing with the fact that I do have to sit in a chair a lot.
I don’t know if my solutions would work for you, but one thing that helps me to some extent is the fact that I have three workstations in my house in two different rooms. Now that our children no longer live with us, I have plenty of space to spread out. And although I understand that sitting in a chair in the same position for long hours is bad for my health, in addition to being uncomfortable, I also understand that I need to be comfortable when I translate.
Because each of these three chairs has slightly different design, I sit at a different angle in each of these chairs, and when my back is telling me that it is time to move to a different position with a different perspective of the world, I go to one of my stations in another room. This also helps when I am working on two or more different projects in different languages because I don’t have to exit the websites that I need for a given project, or keep putting away and bringing to another room dictionaries (yes, I still use those sometime) and printouts of translations.
But the most important thing that I think translators should remember is that the main problem is not that we have to sit in a chair. The main problem is that we have to sit in a chair for too many hours because that is the only way to make enough money to pay our bills if our rates are too low.
Make sure that your rates are high enough so that you can pay your bills while working fewer hours, and you won’t have to worry too much “the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle”. You will be able to go to your gym, or jogging or walking, or take your dog for a walk whenever the spirit moves you to do so, which is a much better way to counter the effects of a sedentary lifestyle than splurging 500 dollars on a desk that will make you tired when you have to stand up while working, just like a clerk working for a minimum wage at Walmart.
I know that something like that is easier said than done. But it is the best solution because working less and moving around more is a much, much better solution than a standing desk, let alone a “treadmill desk”, the latest instrument of torture that some misguided translators are already beginning to recommend to each other on social media.