Could creating the perfect working environment boost performance?

Tyler Cowan excerpts an interview with Mark Zuckerberg where he discusses Facebook’s future as a “metaverse company.”1 One of the “interesting use cases” of the metaverse, according to Zuckerberg, is that:

…with basically a snap of your fingers, pull up your perfect workstation. So anywhere you go, you can walk into a Starbucks, you can sit down, you can be drinking your coffee and kind of wave your hands and you can have basically as many monitors as you want, all set up, whatever size you want them to be, all preconfigured to the way you had it when you were at your home before. And you can just bring that with you wherever you want.

I have a hard time imagining this will strike many outside of the tech community as an “interesting use case,” but I did find it appealing. Beyond conjuring visions of Tony Stark’s HUD, I can see the advantage of designing an ideal and infinitely portable workstation. Moving locations—from my home office, to my desk at school, to the coffee shop—is a source of friction. Different sized monitors (or total lack of external monitors), resizing windows, different visual fields of information, varying keyboard quality, etc, all reduce one’s ability to perform at their best. In Zuckerberg’s metaverse (or my interpretation of it) I can create a bigger, better, ideal workstation, and take it with me wherever I go.

I daydream about the perfect desk setup (and watch others show off their workstations), which I’ve always seen as a form of harmless wish fulfillment, like people who watch unboxing videos or Apple Keynote addresses. But maybe there is more to it than that?

In her book, The Extended Mind, Annie Murphy Paul writes:

“[Philosopher Andy Clark] noted that humans are inclined to create ‘designer environments’—carefully appointed spaces ‘that alter and simplify the computational tasks which our brains must perform to solve complex problems.’”

If “designer environments” help us think and solve problems, then Zuckerberg’s use case is more than just “interesting” or a form of wish fulfillment. It is a way to extend your mind. Perhaps my attraction to the idea, and to well designed work-spaces more broadly, is my body’s way of telling my brain2 not just what it wants, but what it needs to work smarter.

  1. The metaverse is “a convergence of physical, augmented, and virtual reality in a shared online space” (cite). 

  2. In her book Paul also discusses another form of mind extension—“interoception,” an awareness of internal bodily signals.