Link: Screw Your Standing Desk! A sitter’s manifesto

Entertaining attack by Ben Crair on the standing desk hype, including this brilliant passage on a much better solution to back problems:

Of course the long, stationary workdays of most Americans are unhealthy. The solution should not be to sit less, but to work less. If sitting is as bad as the doctors say—and I’m sure it is!—then why not prescribe longer lunch breaks, shorter hours, and more vacation? You can still be chained to a standing desk. Is it any surprise that its biggest fans are the paternalist creeps of Silicon Valley?

Looks like the idler’s lifestyle may be healthier than the worker’s lifestyle.1


Even more to my heart, from the same article, an appreciation of working on trains:

I picture [Paul Theroux] sitting on the transcontinental trains from which he observed his most famous books. There are few places more sedentary than a train car; there are also few better ways to see the world. For Theroux, sitting was motion. A seat on the Boston metro for him was not merely a source of comfort; it was an introduction to adventure. “As we drew into South Station I was a mile closer to Patagonia,” he writes in the opening pages of The Old Patagonian Express.

In my own little world, I’ve been sitting (and working) on trains quite a lot recently, noticing how far my summer residence seems to be displaced from what they call “the real world”. I’m now looking forward to spend almost four weeks without any movement beyond the beach, in order to continue to get my head around the upcoming parts of my transition series.

  1. Disclaimer: I’d love to test a standing desk myself one day. []


  1. Every time I read about someone being oh-so-happy with a standing desk I can’t help thinking about my father, who has almost never touched a computer (except to play some occasional game with me, a long time ago with my first computer). He has worked for ~40 years in a factory, managing machines that cut steel and aluminium to make small oil containers and similar things (they used to make a lot of hinged metal pen cases back when I was in school, too.) He has always worked standing up, except the rare cases when the machine allowed him to sit down. Usually 2-3 hours in the same machine, with pauses to go pick materials, eat or drink something or take a pee.

    His back and neck ache, once a month he had to go to a physiotherapist for a kind of “realignment.” I also went occasionally, since the neck/back pain you get with a computer is similar. It doesn’t matter at all that you are sitting, standing or doing backflips.

    And in addition to back pain, he’s also had a good share of leg things to worry about (knee pain, loss of fat in the legs, cramps and sleepy feet.)

    So, every time I read about the next standing desk wannabe I want to smack them in the head and make them look at what’s happening in the real working world.


    1. Ruben, I can relate to that feeling! I think what’s happening here is that we are now in a position where we’re sitting so much it’s getting unhealthy as well. Similar consequences as the health problems your dad suffered from, just as you say relating to your computer work. What strikes me as weird, though, is that the only alternative we can imagine is to work while we’re standing. Working less and moving more in other contexts (or even working less at a computer and mix it up with some physical work) doesn’t come to mind. Weird, isn’t it?

      My own interest in trying a standing desk stems from the fact that I walk around quite a bit anyway when I’m writing. So I guess that for the specific task of writing a standing desk could be helpful. But even if that’s the case it certainly wouldn’t be a replacement for my usual daily movement.

  2. I consider all of these hyped methods of living better to be mostly trash. They all seem to come to conclusions without using the scientific method. “Let’s eat like our far-off ancestors. Paleo! It’s healthier than anything else!” or said topic, standing desks. “Sitting is so bad for us… But if we stand, we’ll be healthy!” It seems logical, but they suffer from anything beyond the hypothesis. If so, it’s short-term case studies, the most being at one year or so.

    Standing desks would never work for me, as I have flat feet and inflamed knee muscles. This means that when I work, I’m constantly shifting between lying down, sitting, standing, and walking, and adjusting my work as needed. (eg. I can’t do math lying down or walking around, so I make sure to do it in the remaining poses.)

    Although I am aware that you advocate the idler’s lifestyle, an interesting viewpoint that may appeal towards the Silicon Valley paternalists is to shift what is considered work. Some great thinker/scientist of the 20th century, Einstein, Feynman, someone, I don’t really recall, made sure he walked long distances to think out his problems. This was part of his working day and it was considered work. That variation of movement kept him healthy and productive, not that he particularly stood at his desk or sat at his desk. (I have not proved this with the scientific method, but here we have a lifetime case study versus the year some 20-something year olds spent).

    Interesting link. Thanks for talking about it, Fabian.

    1. You’re completely right, Radhika, and I’d bet that we could find plenty of studies supporting your argument: It’s not a matter of “either or”, but of “as well as”: We’ll all get sick if we *only* stand or *only* sit or *only* walk, but we’ll be just fine if we manage to combine all three during our workday (plus some sports and lying down to sleep or chill, of course!).

      Concerning Einstein and Co., walking around has another benefit other than health in my experience: It will make you much more creative and help you to solve problems, even when you’re not consciously “working” on them. Now that’s a way to work that I like!

  3. Haha, I laughed at the title, and cheer your resolve, Fabian. I have a couple friends who benefit from the standing desk, but one is a workaholic and the other, I dunno. But I agree with your point, and Radhika’s, that we (esp. Americans) have the tendency to get an idea and throw it at a problem to see if it sticks, none too scientifically, in the general public. However I will say trying something new is better than just throwing MONEY at the problem… ;-)

    1. You’re very right, Margaret. Maybe the European stereotype is rather the opposite of the problem, i.e. waiting too long and getting all theoretic instead of simply putting it into practice and see what happens. It’s in my attempt to get better with this that I’d like to try a standing desk myself for writing when the opportunuty arises. :)

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