If I had to make a bold and highly unscientific guess, I’d say that the vast majority of the people out there reading this are most likely doing so from the relative comfort of their computer desk either at work or at home. Which means that in most cases, you’re going to be reading this while sitting in some sort of desk chair. And if your experience happens to be anything like mine, there’s a good chance that chair mostly just annoys the heck out of you. Take, for example, the chair you see above. As is the case with a suspiciously large percentage of the furniture I’ve got in my apartment, it emerged flat-packed from the Deadly Tunnel of Furniture roughly two years ago, replacing another chair from the same vaguely Scandanavian warehouse of furniture (and occasionally doom) that had at that time outlived its usefulness. Which, to be honest, probably could have been measured in days rather than weeks, months or years, but I kept using the thing anyway until something particularly unfixable broke and relegated it to the garbage bin it had dodged for far longer than it should have.
For some reason I can’t quite seem to figure out, this chair cost a fair bit more than the one it was replacing. I’m guessing that they figured they could charge more because the designer had a fancier sounding name or something like that. Either that, or they were trying to get in on the whole fabric mesh thing that all the cool chair designers were into at the time so they could use half the material and sell it for twice as much. Either way, I don’t think it’s because they used quality materials and built the thing to last, because when it all boils down, the thing is actually pretty flimsy, and annoys me on a regular basis when I try to use it. Sure, it still functions, more or less, as a chair, but the tilt mechanism has bent to the point where the actual seating position when tilted back is roughly halfway up the backrest, and the hydraulic cylinder for the height adjustment has developed a slow leak somewhere along the line that causes the seat to slowly slink down as you sit in it, and requires constant fiddling to keep the seat at the proper height. Eventually, it all just gets to be too much effort to maintain, and you just crank the thing all the way up so you can get another 17 minutes of typing out of it before it sinks back down to the bottom and you have to fix it again. Of course, by the time you’ve reached this point I’d say you’ve pretty much thrown any semblance of ergonomics out the proverbial window, but I suspect that the experience the people who design these chairs have with ergonomics amounts to having had someone play it against them in Scrabble for 27 points once.
The obvious solution to that problem would be, of course, to replace the chair with something that’s actually decent. The problem with that is that the average office furniture shopper is going to be faced with all sorts of choices in all sorts of price ranges, but isn’t going to have much information that’s actually useful for figuring this stuff out. Take, for example, these four chairs, seen recently at Costco. Of these four chairs, there was one being sold for $79.99, one being sold for $99.99, one being sold for $179.99, and one being sold for $299.99. Just by looking at them, can you tell which is which? Sure, you might be able to guess, but you’d probably be wrong. With all the various combinations of materials, features, sizes and styles, just about any of these chairs could be any of those prices. Incidentally, that plain-looking chair in the back? That’s the $300 one, owing mostly to the prestigious and/or pretentious brand name. on the box.
Ultimately, as is the case with plenty of other durable goods, it seems that if you’re looking for something that’s going to last, you’re probably going to need to spend some money and get a higher-end product. Then again, that’s not always a guarantee that your chair problems are going to be solved either. At the office, my desk is equipped with one of these fancy designer chairs, standard equipment for our workplace. Some Internet searching reveals that if I wanted to actually buy the chair I have at my desk at work, it would cost me somewhere upward of $800. And I do have to admit that it’s a whole lot better than the one I have at home. It’s got about a dozen different adjustments I can make, it’s got one of those fancy mesh seats that seem to be all the rage these days, and it’s generally a whole heck of a lot more comfortable than anything I’ve ever had at home. There’s just one problem with the thing: it squeaks every time I try to tilt it back. Which, given my somewhat fidgety nature, is quite often, and it’s been bugging me for months now. So after making a quick trip home on my afternoon break to grab a couple of things, I brought back a can of WD-40 to the office to try to sort this problem out once and for all.
So upon returning to the office (it was a bit of a slow day,) I turned over the chair in the middle of my cube and began lubricating anything that looked like it could be theoretically lubricated. This, of course, accomplished absolutely nothing as the chair continued to squeak just as loudly as ever. So further inspection of the shockingly complex tilt and adjustment mechanisms revealed a couple more points that looked like they could theoretically squeak annoyingly given the appropriate conditions. This didn’t do much either except for make the squeak slightly less reproducible than it was before. Three or four more instances of overturning the chair and spraying stuff into vaguely joint-like crevices didn’t do a whole lot more good. So now instead of an expensive fancy chair that squeaks, I’ve got an expensive fancy chair that still squeaks about half the time, and a cubicle that smells like WD-40. At least I think I have a semi-reasonable idea of where the problem is coming from. Unfortunately, the apparent problem spot seems to be right underneath a highly fashionable plastic cover that prevents access to the afflicted hinge, seems to be attached in a way that renders it pretty much non-removable, and probably won several prestigious awards with its understated simplicity and elegance. At this point, about all I can think to do is just randomly spray lubricant into that space through a tiny hole on the side and hope that some of it ends up somewhere useful. Either that, or I could call for a chair technician who would probably charge more to fix my squeaky chair than I’d pay for an average scheduled maintenance on my car. Which I’d probably end up doing anyway after drowning the mechanism in WD-40 somehow renders it inoperable or something like that. And voids the warranty in the process.
You know how they say the squeaky wheel gets the grease? Yeah, well that’s not exactly doing me much good right now.