The Road to the Zombie Office

Martin Filler in the New York Review of Books:

CubedIf we are what we eat—a notion that seems irrefutable in today’s food-fixated United States—then another corollary, at a time when personal identity often derives more from professional pursuits than private matters, would be that we are where we work. Whether that means a mahogany-paneled corner suite atop a high-rise corporate banking headquarters in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, or a Silicon Valley campus designed to feed the infantile appetites of tech geeks, or a hipster freelancer coworking facility recycled from an abandoned architectural relic of some long-ago economic boom, there has never been more diversity in the settings where American office employees spend their workdays.

In Cubed, his impressive but substantially flawed study of the modern office over the past two hundred years, Nikil Saval—an editor at n+1, where this, his first book, began as an essay—develops two subthemes with particular clarity and power. The first and more important is the increasing participation of women in the office workplace beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, a development that entailed a methodical limitation of tasks, pay, and prospects for advancement of women generally. The resulting disparity was not accidental, but began with, and ever since has followed remarkably closely, a standard established for federal employees as early as 1866, when legislators put an annual salary cap of $900 on female government employees, as opposed to a maximum of $1,200 to $1,800 for men.

More here.