At $3,890, the Stir Kinetic desk is a high priced luxury

The Stir Kinetic desk has caused quite a, um, stir since the CEO, JP Labrosse, has been showing it off in tech circles. Labrosse, who worked on the iPod at Apple before starting Stir, has a showman’s flair, and demos the desk with an impish eagerness.

The Stir Kinetic desk is no ordinary desk. It is a programmed object that supports sitting and standing modes, and adapts through software to the pattern of moving between those two modes.

The new mantra is that “sitting is the new smoking”, to paraphrase my friend Nilofer Merchant., and the standing (or convertible) desk is growing in popularity. The reasoning is simple. Sitting is a serious mortality factor:

James Vlahos, Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?

Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives.

Another study, published last year in the journal Circulation, looked at nearly 9,000 Australians and found that for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11 percent. The study author David Dunstan wanted to analyze whether the people who sat watching television had other unhealthful habits that caused them to die sooner. But after crunching the numbers, he reported that “age, sex, education, smoking, hypertension, waist circumference, body-mass index, glucose tolerance status and leisure-time exercise did not significantly modify the associations between television viewing and all-cause . . . mortality.”

Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”

My prediction is that standing while working will become the norm over the next few years.

Merchant swears by WalknTalk meetings, where participants discuss business while strolling. Stand-up meetings have traditionally been used to keep meetings short, but may in the future be just the most commonplace way to meet.

But a $3,890 desk? Isn’t that a bit excessive?

Here’s what you get:

  • A desk that recognizes people, remembers settings, and senses what people are doing.
  • Remembers your pattern of standing/sitting, and recommends when it is time to switch.
  • Rises and lowers by electric motors with just a click on the touchpad.
  • Tracks time sitting and standing and displays stats.

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 11.45.24

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 11.43.03

The self-quantified aspect of this is sort of the opposite of what I expect in the future. Instead of the smarts in the desk, people will have apps in their companion devices (so-called “mobile” devices) that monitor their activities everywhere, not just at this one desk. And simple bluetooth or wifi connection to actuators could be used on motorized desk legs, which could be attached to any existing or future desktops. Or simpler, lower-cost manual systems, like the one on my desk, cost only a few hundred dollars, and take only a few seconds to lift up or lower down.

2013-09-27 12.23.59

So, the Stir Kinetic desk is a transitional novelty item, a Jetsonesque parody, suitable only for those with more money than sense.