An Argument Against Standing Desks

Jul 25, 2013

One office worker says he enjoys sitting and he’s tired of the “superior moral attitude” from the standers around him.

Writer Ben Crair told Here & Now he accepts the medical studies showing that sitting at your desk is bad for your health. His objection to standing is based on “the pure satisfaction I get from sitting,” he said.

He argues there are other solutions to the health problem of sitting too long.

“Longer lunch breaks, shorter work days, more vacation,” Crair said. “The standing desk is a solution that certainly your boss loves, but I don’t know if it actually improves life for most Americans.”

As a writer, Crair also wants to mount a creative defense of sitting, because it’s part of the creative protest for most writers, and the way a writer writes reflects his or her individual style.


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Yeah. I've got a question for both of you. Do you prefer sitting down at a desk or one of those standing desks? Robin, I know what you do.

YOUNG: Yeah. We stand right next to each other.

HOBSON: That's right. And, Carey, what about you?

CAREY GOLDBERG, BYLINE: Yes. As a health reporter, I stand a lot. I know it's better for me, but I go up and down all day.

HOBSON: Up and down all day. Well, according Bloomberg News, one office furniture maker is reporting that sales of its standing desk grew at four times the rate of sitting desks last year. So standing desks have gained in popularity. There have been a lot of studies that have shown that sitting for long periods can be bad for your health. But our next guest, Ben Crair, says screw your standing desk. That is a quote.



HOBSON: He has written what he calls "A Sitter's Manifesto" for The New Republic, where he is an editor. He joined us now from Argot Studios in New York. And, Ben, what is your problem with standing desks?

BEN CRAIR: My main problem with it isn't standing itself but a certain moral superiority that I have noticed now and people who have adopted the standing desks in the office place.

HOBSON: Moral superiority?

CRAIR: Yes. And this is based I think on a lot of research that has come out recently that suggests sitting for long periods of time is very unhealthy. And because of this, I think that people who choose to stand are very confident that they have made the better choice, that, in fact, standing is the right posture for working. And I strongly disagree with that conclusion.

HOBSON: Based on what?

CRAIR: Based on the pure satisfaction I get from sitting. Probably my favorite part of my workday is sitting in the chair for long periods of time, resting my legs, even if I'm not always using them that much in the first place.

And so I couldn't dispute the medical research. I mean, I think that those conclusions are probably true. I'm certainly not qualified to dispute them. But I wanted to mount a creative defense of sitting based on how important it is, especially to me as a writer, how it is a part of the writing process. Sitting is part of the process that we never think of but, in fact, it is, I think, for most writers the first step towards putting words on the page, is you take a seat in your chair at your desk.

HOBSON: So you think more creative when you're sitting down than when you're standing up?

CRAIR: So Susan Orlean is a writer for The New Yorker, and she's a very fine writer. She wrote a piece not long ago for them about working at a treadmill desk, which is even beyond the standing desk. And Susan Orlean said in that piece, the main problem with the treadmill desk is that you need to resist the compulsion to announce that you are writing at a treadmill desk.

And it seemed to me, you know, the culture that compels us to use a treadmill desk is a culture whose literature will be about treadmill desks and a culture that tolerates sitting is a culture whose literature can be about many other things.

HOBSON: So I have to admit that after years as somebody sitting at a sitting desk, that now I use a standing desk, and I rather like it. Do you think that we are better off sitting at our desks no matter what our profession?

CRAIR: So we've learned that sitting for long periods of time is bad for us. And I do think the response that many people have had to this is not, you know, that we should work less but is that we should sit less. So you can still be chained to your standing desk, right, and you can work long days. And I do think that there are other solutions. So maybe we should have longer lunch breaks or more vacation or shorter workdays...

HOBSON: I'll sign up for that.

CRAIR: get people - yes, I know. Everyone would, right? But, you know, Americans don't like to think that way. And so the solution that so many of us have adopted is simply to start standing at their desks rather than really thinking about how we work and why we work the way we do. And in that way, I think that the standing desk - it's a solution certainly that your boss loves, but I don't know if it actually improves the quality of life for most working Americans.

HOBSON: I have to say that on your point about writers, Ernest Hemingway did stand when he wrote.

CRAIR: There are many writers who stood. Virginia Woolf stood, Winston Churchill stood. There are also many writers who lay down to write, Gary Shteyngart, Mark Twain, Truman Capote. The way a writer writes reflects their individual style.

HOBSON: Ben Crair, he has written what he calls "The Sitter's Manifesto." We've got the link at Ben, thanks.

CRAIR: Thank you.

HOBSON: And HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston.


HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.