Opinion

Down with standing desks!

Sit down, you healthy humble-bragger

The other day, I walked into an office. One man towered above the rest of the employees, who were busily pushing papers around their desks and talking on phones and inputting information into computers. At first glance it appeared that this man might be about to head out to get lunch, or perhaps stomp into a meeting and demand a significant raise. But as the minutes ticked by, I realized he wasn't going anywhere. My heart sank.

There's one of them in every office nowadays. One and then two and three, catching like the flu, four and five, and then another. I'm not talking about those goofs who sit on balls (so 2010!). No, these are the Standing Desk People*, who are only outdone in their open, unselfconscious embrace of healthy living by the treadmill desk people, to whom you almost have to give credit because if you can manage to combine your workout and your work, well, there's just more time for sitting and drinking and eating cheeseburgers at the end of the day, isn't there?

One of the more aggravating things about American culture (and the cyclical proliferation of articles on the internet that go right along with American culture) is the belief that somehow, through our own personal concerted efforts, if we really, really try, we can keep from dying. Take the US News headline "Are You Sitting Yourself to Death?" Well, maybe, but you're also standing, walking, driving, drinking, and breathing yourself to death. You're bone brothing yourself to death, you're kale-eating yourself to death. You're healthy-ing yourself to death! You're healthy-ing me to death. And even if you don't do any of those things, barring any fountain of youth discoveries, you're still going to shuffle off this mortal coil at some point in time. We are all living ourselves to death.

This is why I believe in sitting as much as possible while working. (Unless I'm texting while walking, of course.) If I'm going to live myself to death, I'm going to do it with my butt in a chair.

My favorite position for sitting while working is one that no ergonomic pamphlet has ever seen. (Friends who witness it have been known to utter an admiring, "That's a really interesting position.") In order to spare strangers, I do it only at my "home office"; this is the sort of respect I'd ask for the standing deskers among us. (Stand on your own time!) I sit with my laptop in front of me at a long Ikea table that isn't a desk at all. I prop my legs on the table, to the left of my computer, because raised legs are good for blood flow. And there I sit, typing in a hunched, angled position that my mom might describe as "cattycorner" and is surely not helping me not die. But I don't care! It's how the words come out. It's what I like.

Sometimes I sit on the couch. This I am sure is also bad for my life. And still, I persist. We all have our habits, our ways of living life, our couches. To each his own, and I would never tell a standing desk person they can't stand and work, only that if they do, they risk my judgment. Perhaps this is fine, because they are judging me right back. However, I am not the one who changed the rules!

In the office, we used to just sit, unless we were coming from three-martini lunches, in which case perhaps we lay upon couches to try to sober up before concocting brilliant ad campaigns. But today, the simple act of sitting has become fraught with emotion, judgment, opinion. "You should really stand," someone might say. "I stand! It's better for you! People aren't supposed to sit all day!"

Your standing desk is now your humble brag, or worse, your in-your-face accusation. "I'm better than you," your standing desk says to me. "I care more. My legs are so tired! I am NOT GOING TO DIE."

Well, the chair came to be long before your resolution to stand did. Why did the ancient Egyptians create it? For you to sit. Do you really want to spit in the face of antiquity?

There are other worries about the standing desk, too, worries that pile up like the papers around your standing desk, papers you might pull a muscle reaching to pick up because you're standing instead of scooting around in a chair picking up papers from the floor. For instance, are you doing it right? (Probably not.) What should you wear in order to be fashionable but also comfortable while working at your standing desk? (Clogs, according to noted trend chronicler The New York Times). What happens to your family when you persist in standing to do almost everything? What happens to your feet? (It's not good.) Should we do standing one better and lie down while working? (Quite possibly!) Should you lean? (Oh dear.) Should you just go outside in the sun and take a walk instead? (Well, that sounds nice.) And what about the unsung health benefits of sitting that you miss out on when you stand? Every time you sit, aren't you basically doing a squat? Squats are good! Squats keep us from dying, and also make our glutes more like Kim Kardashian's! (I could, for the record, find no comment from Kim Kardashian on standing desks, but I'd suspect she scoffs at the sight of them.)

Take it from Alan Hedge, professor in the Department of Design and Environment Analysis at Cornell University, who was quoted in that US News article about doing it wrong: "Standing all day is no better than sitting all day. If what you're doing is replacing sitting with standing, you're not actually doing your body any favors. In fact, you're introducing a whole variety of new risk factors."

I am all for progress, for ridding the world of evils, for people being kinder and gentler to one another and themselves. Yet when I walk into an office where someone is standing, I feel less kind, less gentle. I suffer a PTSD flashback to an office I worked in once, where people were fired regularly. You'd know someone had just been let go because the anxiety in the air would ratchet up, and you'd look up from the cubicle in which you were quietly, frantically working, and you would see someone standing. They'd be gathering their belongings after a visit to HR, and by the look on their face and the fact that they were holding a stapler aimlessly, unsure where to put it, unsure they'd ever staple anything ever again, you knew they'd gotten the sack. One by one we would all turn and see and a hush would envelop the room until some brave person rose to hug the offended standing party (that hug-dispensing person, most likely, would be next to go).

Oh, also, when I walked into that office where the man was standing at his desk, someone said, "For most people, standing at their desk is a health thing. For you it's an alpha male thing." So, beware the complicated gender/power politics of the standing desk! No one wants to be towered over at work. Seats are the great equalizer, at least of butts.

And then there's the semantic argument: Has anyone ever said to you, "Here, have a stand?" I rest my case, and I sit on it.

*My editor, who is otherwise quite lovely, is one of the terrible Standing Desk People.

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