Why are there no chairs in the Bible, or in all 30,000 lines of Homer? Neither are there any in the play Hamlet – written in 1599. But by the middle of the 19th Century, it is a completely different story. In Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, suddenly there are 187 mentions of them. What changed?
With sitting sometimes being described as ‘the new smoking’, we know that spending too much time in chairs is bad for us. Not only are chairs unhealthy, but like air pollution, they are becoming almost impossible for modern humans to avoid.
When I started researching my book about how the world we have created around us is changing our bodies, I was surprised to discover just how rare chairs used to be. Now they’re everywhere – in offices, trains, cafés, restaurants, pubs, cars, concert halls, cinemas, doctor’s surgeries, hospitals, theatres, schools, lecture halls, and all over our houses (I guarantee you have more than you think).
If I was asked to make even a conservative estimate of the number of chairs in the world, I’d find it hard to go lower than eight to 10 per person. Applying that logic, there could be more than 60 billion of them on the planet. Surely chairs should be one of the universal signals that mark the arrival of our current geological epoch, the Anthropocene? Like other markers of our shift to a new time period, chairs are to be found on every continent.