The Context of Comfort
By MortazaviBlog on Apr 18, 2007
A Way of Sitting: Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Ghandi
In an earlier blog entry, I argued that the primary purpose of end-use technology was to close certain kinds of temporospatial gaps.
(By "use," I mean an every-day, every-person "end use," not some "end use" which is internal to technology production itself.)
In the commentary that followed, Madhan Kumar Balasubramanian
noted that some technology was simply to provide comfort regardless of
any temporospatial conditions. I noted that comfort was subjective and
would have supplanted Madhan's "comfort" exception by noting that there were tools that
were simply for play, say the soccer ball, and yet they served, at least in
some sense, to fill a temporospatial gap of a certain kind. For example,
play introduces a different experience of time as it passes. My argument in my earlier entry then becomes the relative contribution to the "filling" of spatial vs. temporal gaps made by a particular end-use technology -- for all such technology fill these gaps.
To demonstrate how we can find significant subjectivity mixed in any set of "comfort" criteria, I only gave examples that were somewhat marginal but I could remember that I had read something about the subjectivity of comfort in Galen Cranz' The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design. (Consider listening to the NPR interview with Cranz about her book.)
Cranz notes how comfort only finds meaning in a specific context.
When chairs were derived from the classical orders of architecture, the unyielding, vertical back was retained. Some judge that this strategy produced uncomfortable furniture. However, for the purpose of maintaining alertness, unprightness has proved the most comfortable position over time. For the kinds of social and political functions staged in such rooms, altertness was undoubtedly appropriate and desired, and this chair style supported that purpose.
Otherwise, it may often be much more comfortable to lay down, walk, run or even swim than to sit upright.
(Cranz' book also discusses the role of furniture in conveying social identity and status. For a relevant quote from the book, see here.)