Sometime in 1999 or 2000, the entire company received new office chairs. One day, a brand new Aeron chair was delivered to my office, and my old chair was taken away. Someone came by to make sure that my new chair was adjusted properly, that it was ergonomically correct. They tried to adjust my posture more than the chair, but in the end, the chair fit very well.
That chair saw me through the final months before Y2K. I was sitting in that chair one Tuesday morning when a coworker called to tell me she’d heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Rather than go through the experience of having a new chair readjusted for me, I had the chair shipped across the country when I moved from the Santa Monica office to the Arlington, Virginia office in 2002.
I lost count of the number of computers I went through in the years since I first got the chair. At least a dozen I’d guess, each one supposedly better than the next. Each time a new computer came along, I had to transfer all of my data and programs, a process that often took days, and left me with a productivity debt that was hard to dig out of. My chair required no such costly maintenance. It just worked, happily taking my weight each morning, and never once complaining when, after years at the same slim weight, a steady increase began to take place.
Eventually the wear and tear took its toll. I noticed the chair slumping down to the lowest setting. I’d pull the lever on the side to hoist it back up, but after a few minutes, I’d find myself with my chin in my keyboard. The wheels on the chair no longer rolled smoothly across my office carpet. The bearing had worn down. The right arm rest would not stay in position either, and would rattle as I typed. I tried to overlook these things for a few years, the way one might overlook the slow, but steady decline in a pet.
Finally, it got to the point when I could no longer ignore it. Early in December, I walked over to the Facilities manager’s office. “Fifteen years ago,” I said, “I got a new chair, and it was the best chair I could have wished for. But it is sick now, terminal, and I think it is time to do the right thing, and put it out of its misery. She agreed.
I expected the weight of bureaucracy to give me a week or two more with my old chair so that I could let it down easily, but that isn’t how it worked out. About 10 minutes after I talked to the Facilities manager, someone came by and took my old chair away. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. I stood in my chairless office, uncertain what to do. I fidgeted. I tried to check my email, but it didn’t feel right, squatting in front of the keyboard. It lasted just five minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.
A new Aeron chair was delivered. At first glance, it looked no different than the old chair. The differences came when I sat in it. It was firm. It rolled smoothly across the carpet. The right armrest didn’t jiggle when I typed. The chair didn’t sink when I raised the seat to the appropriate height.
I tried typing an email message and it seemed alright.
This must have been what it was like when I got the first Aeron chair back in 1999 or 2000. It felt good. I wondered, fleetingly, where my old chair had gone, and if was at peace (or in pieces). Then the phone rang, and I took the call, seated in my new chair, but I wasn’t paying attention to whoever was on the line. I was staring at my desk. I’ve had the desk for over 13 years, ever since I moved into that office. I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t time to face facts, and I made a note to myself to seek out the Facilities manager and see what could be done about my aging, decrepit desk.