An innovation in office furniture designed to "liberate workers" instead became the white-collar cellblock otherwise known as the cubicle, reports Dwight Garner in a New York Times review of Cubed, by Nikil Saval (4/25/14). Robert Propst "developed what would become known as ergonomics" and "created something called the Action Office, a flexible, semi-enclosed work space that had some style and wit to it." Others took this idea and turned it into "one-size-fits-all work spaces," that is, the cubicle.
Nikil’s book also delves into the invention of everything that contributes to the cubicle experience, such as "the vertical file cabinet, the suspended ceiling, the fluorescent light bulb, the elevator, the Dictaphone, the human resources department." It profiles those responsible for "the development of modern office culture," such as Frederick Taylor, an efficiency expert; Katharine Gibbs, the secretarial school founder; and Willis Carrier, inventor of "modern air conditioning."
The consequences of the cubicle environment may be even more profound than we realize. As Nikil writes: "One wonders to what extent the extravagant growth of the American bathroom, and of the suburban home in general, is partly a reaction against the shrinking of cubicles, where the owners of those bathrooms spend so much of their time." He also describes the cubicle as "the flimsy, fabric-wrapped, half-exposed stall where the white-collar worker waited out his days until, at long last, he was laid off."