Curved monitors may save you from the tyranny of the open-plan office

Samsung’s behemoth curved monitor.
Samsung’s behemoth curved monitor.
Image: Samsung
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Crunching chips. Music blaring from headphones. Phone conversations that sound like shouting matches. Everyone knowing where you are at every moment.

Open-plan office, which have been rising in popularity since the second half of the 20th century, are meant to promote a collegial, creative work atmosphere, where employees are all in the mix of office life together. But in reality, they are often loud, and compromise private and personal space. I think I have found a modest solution.

No one wants to redesign every office back into the dreary, cubicle-filled graveyards of the past. An alternative might be a much simpler: a large, curved computer monitor and a pair of decent headphones.

For the last week or so, I’ve replaced the two-screen laptop-and-monitor combo I usually have at my desk with a massive, 34-inch, curved-screen monitor from Samsung (a CJ791, to be specific). 

When I unpacked the behemoth and had to completely reorganize my desk to fit the thing on there, I was skeptical. I had been using a 27-inch iMac desktop, and found all the real estate the Samsung afforded me to actually be a nuisance. Then I realized something was different with the curved monitor: Whereas the iMac screen felt nearly as tall as it was wide, the Samsung screen, with an aspect ratio of 21:9, felt far wider than a typical monitor, but just as tall. (The iMac’s ratio is 16:9.)

The wide, curved screen of the review unit felt like it was wrapping around my field of view as I sat at my desk. I could have multiple windows open at a large size, on one display, and I didn’t have to tilt my head or eyes up to read. Sitting normally, I could see everything. The monitor even powers my MacBook (it has a USB-C Thunderbolt port, as well as about every other connector you could possibly want, that passes power through to the laptop), helping cut down on the clutter on my desk a little bit.

The curvature of the screen isn’t that dramatic, perhaps an inch on either side from the center of the display, but I found the effect to be surprisingly immersive and conducive to sitting at my desk and working. With headphones on, I was able to write comfortably for hours, feeling like I was in my own little world, as my screen wrapped around me. I wasn’t distracted by anyone in my curved-screen cocoon.

Not the best use of the curved screen, but you get the idea.
Not the best use of the curved screen, but you get the idea.
Image: Quartz/Mike Murphy

Many screen manufacturers have stopped making or scaled back production of curved TV screens, as consumers generally found them to be too gimmicky, and unless you’re sitting dead-middle in front of it, you get a warped view of whatever is on display. Sitting at a desk in front of a computer, however, is an entirely different experience than watching TV in a living room. At your desk, you’re in prime position to be enveloped by everything you have in front of you. I opened the program TweetDeck in full-screen, and I felt like I was in the Matrix.

Obviously, curved screens don’t provide nearly the same amount of privacy as a cubicle might, and this particular display, while gorgeous, will set you back around $880, so it’s not likely going to be the solution for most offices. But there are others out there for half the price or less, and the screen has given me a small modicum of privacy in a busy office, and with everything going on in the news these days, that’s very welcome.