“What’s it for?” Or, occasionally, “What’s it good for?”
I get this question about our chairs a lot, and I have to say, it’s a hard question for me. Which may seem a little odd, because I’m the inventor. But just because you invent something doesn’t mean you can envision all the uses to which your invention might be put, because humans are an endlessly creative species.
I love this story: When Alexander Graham Bell was asked what his telephone was for, he replied: “I think it will be wonderful, when the weather is inclement, to be able to listen to the opera without going out into the storm.” Bell thought he had invented music streaming, because he simply couldn’t envision everyone having a telephone and a switching network so vast that could connect anyone to anyone else. But, while telephones were mostly used for private conversations in the last century, in the 21st century Bell has been vindicated as we all happily stream music over our phones. Finally.
I was originally drawn to active sitting because it seemed a way to encourage people, myself included, to adjust their posture moment to moment; something that automatically, almost magically, improved posture and so went a long way toward relieving lower back pain. As I looked further into the physiologic effects of passive sitting, I found that sitting inertly slumped in “ergonomic” office chairs was also terrible for people’s metabolic health, shortening lives by as much as two years. So, our chairs that provide active sitting seemed the key to improved posture, less pain, and better overall health.
But I soon began to suspect that I hadn’t exhausted all the possible uses to which our chairs might be used for.
It began a few years ago when one of our chairs disappeared from our space in a startup commune here in Burlington. It turned up in the workspace of a fellow entrepreneur who did a lot of welding. He’d borrowed it because it provided a way for him to move around the pieces he was welding without having to adjust his chair. Pretty soon we were hearing from tattoo artists, and folks who spun yarn, and people who played music, even a couple of people who assembled model trains. All these people were eager to laud our chairs as a base for their personal projects and passions. So, it seems we may have actually invented a great “task sitting” chair.
But then an equestrian friend began insisting that what our chairs really were, were an inexpensive way to recapitulate the feeling of being on a horse, without the trouble of having to go to the stables and mount up. She even sent us a picture of how one rider mounted her saddle on one of our Newton chairs.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jason Wolstenholm, a chiropractor friend, found that our active chairs were a great way to keep one’s spine limber through the seated work day, and even made a little video that he calls “Four for the Core”.
Laura Savard, a Polestar Pilates instructor, disagreed, insisting that our chair was really a piece of Pilates equipment. She felt so strongly that she made a competing Pilates video.
And Laura isn’t alone in her “these chairs are really exercise equipment” point of view. We often get pictures, like this one from Gabe in New York City.
After a few years of this back and forth I thought I had a pretty good handle on how our chairs might be used, but then a few days ago I got an email from a new convert to active sitting who had this arresting sentence: “I was also being silly with the chair, using it like a piece of exercise equipment (having not exercised in a while) and pretending to ski on it while watching alpine YouTube videos! Not exactly sensible :)”.
Are our chairs the Peloton of alpine skiing? Just maybe. I recently placed a wobble board under my feet while sitting on an Ariel. It was harder than I expected, and probably should have put on a helmet, first.
All of this is to say, when you invent something, you really lose control of it. People are endlessly creative in how they will view, and use, whatever comes their way. I’ve been grateful for each of these stories that people who’ve adopted active sitting have shared with me. I’m delighted that, although I may not know what our chairs are for, lots of other people seem to have it figured out.
There’s likely more to this story. I’m excited to look at my email every morning, never knowing what new purpose our chairs have been repurposed to. If you decide to try one of the exercise videos or come up with an off-label use, please, be careful, and then send us a pic.