Anyone who suffers from back pain knows that sitting, especially for long periods of time, can be excruciating. You try anything that might make sitting more comfortable. I have lost count of the number of cushions, pads, pillows, heating pads, and other products I have bought in an attempt to make my back pain go away, mostly to no avail. I have also tried a variety of chairs, both at home and at the office, that claimed to be ergnomically friendly. Those too have delivered more hype than help.
This changed about six years ago when my library embarked on a major renovation project, which included new task chairs for the students. We looked at a number of chairs, and finally settled on the Herman Miller Aeron chair. To say it has been popular with our students is an understatement. We could not afford to replace all of our student seating at once, so some areas of the library still have the older task chairs. Last summer, during the bar exam study period, the library elevator was broken. Notwithstanding this situation, students began carrying the Aeron chairs up and down the stairs so that they could use them in the areas of the library where they liked to study. Once I realized what was happening, I tried to put a stop to it for fear that the students would injure themselves. Ultimately, however, I capitulated, and the Buildings and Grounds staff scattered the Aeron chairs around so that there would be some on every one of the library's five levels. I try to buy a few more Aeron chairs every year if I have any extra money.
Some of the staff also got Aeron chairs. I was one of the lucky ones, and I can truly say it has changed my life. Sitting is no longer a punishment, and my back doesn't hurt at the end of the day. However, according to Cliff Kuang's article in Slate, the fact that the Aeron chair is comfortable is actually not a good thing because it encourages sitting and sitting is bad for us. According to Kuang, the Aeron enables a "sedentary work life [that] is killing us." In response, manufacturers are now creating products that Kuang has dubbed the "anti-Aerons"--desks at which one works standing up, exercise balls used as office chairs, desks with attached treadmills, desks with integrated chairs that make sitting difficult. One designer "actually designed a stool that's too uncomfortable to sit in for long periods." I just don't see the point of making people uncomfortable. Isn't it easier just to get up every fifteen minutes or so and walk around?