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Say goodbye, Elbow room

As if shrinking paychecks and falling home values were not bad enough, now our cubicles are getting smaller, too.

As if shrinking paychecks and falling home values were not bad enough, now our cubicles are getting smaller, too. Perhaps you read about it this week — with your elbows pressed to your sides, your knees against your laptop and your nearest colleague nattering on the phone so close that you could feel his hot breath on the back of your neck.

Seems that the same nasty trend that turned legions of office workers into human prairie dogs, popping up from their cubicles to yip at the world, is now subdividing what’s left of their dwindling desk space. According to CNN.com, many workers who used to occupy spaces that were 8-by-10 now sit in a mere 5-by-5 square. That’s about half as big as some of the cells in jolly old Alcatraz. Granted, the inmates there had to live in those spaces, but considering how much time some of us are spending at the office these days ...

The reasons, as you might guess, mix well with the corporate Kool-Aid that the public relations flacks sell: Office space costs a lot of money so the savings protect jobs, technology has made the extra space superfluous, it promotes a cozier, collaborative work place ... yadda yadda yadda.

Mind you, executive offices have grown larger at the same time (surprise!) so presumably that means the bosses don’t have all that great new miniature technology. Or perhaps they find napping and putt practice a tad restricted by close quarters. Sucks to be them, huh?

I understand how reducing the amount of office space for each person seems prudent to the bean-counting crew. But if we’re going to follow that logic, why not just have us stand at tiny podiums all day? That’d take even less space and promote better health.

Anyway, it all reminds me that there is a real reason why a lot of average Americans don’t trust the folks who are in charge of business, politics or almost anything that involves power and a big corner office. Because those workers can see and feel every day that their turf is being chopped away — the power of their vote, their influence over their own destiny, even the space to swivel their chairs.

It might even seem funny. If we had room to laugh.

–CNN’s Tom Foreman is a regular on “AC360°”/www.ac360.com and “The Situation Room.”

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