The Computer Vs. The Chair


Imagine you are an alien. No, I am serious! Imagine you are an alien, and that you have no prior knowledge about the human race, its endeavors and technologies. Now Imagine that I am describing to you the tools and devices I use in my office.


I start by telling you that we humans get tired if we need to stand up for many hours in a row, and in order to solve this problem we invented the “chair.” The most primitive chairs appeared thousands of years ago, and they were basically blocks of stone large enough for a man to sit. Over time we started using wood, metal and plastic to produce more comfortable chairs. I also tell you that I use a very sophisticated chair (it’s actually the one in the image above), which aims to fit the human body perfectly and to provide an ergonomic experience. Still, it’s only a chair.

Next I tell you that I also use a “computer.” I explain that the computer is a programmable machine capable of performing arithmetic and logic operations incredibly fast. The first general-purpose computers appeared in the 1950s, using vacuum tubes. After that the inventions of the transistor, the integrated circuit and the microprocessor completely revolutionized this technology, making computers much faster. In fact the computer sitting under my desk has two processors, each one capable of performing over 2 billion instructions and calculations per second! Thanks to its power and versatility, I explain, the computer is considered one of the most important inventions of the human race, and it changed the way we work and live both deeply and permanently.

At this point I turn to you, the alien, and ask: “So, which one of these two devices do you think is more expensive here on earth?”

I am pretty sure that if you really were an alien you would say that the computer must cost a lot more than the sitting device (i.e., the chair).

You are not an alien, though, so by now you should know where I am going with this narrative. Yes, my point is that I find it both curious and surprising that a chair, despite being a sophisticated one, can cost as much as $1000, while with $300 or so you can already purchase the most powerful personal computer on the market.

Sure, we can dig deeper to understand what is going on here. But you can’t deny that the fact is damn curious at a first sight.

One could argue that the raw materials used on each product have different costs, but I don’t think this would be enough to explain the price difference.

The branding and commodity aspects play a role, too. Somehow chair manufacturers managed to de-commoditize the product. It probably started with Herman Miller and the Aeron chair. After its introduction in the market chairs weren’t simply chairs anymore. You had the average chairs, and then you had the premium, ergonomic ones. As a result prices for those premium chairs sky-rocketed.

Computers, on the other hand, became commodities along the way. Today most people don’t care if they are going to purchase a Dell, a Lenovo, an HP or an assembled PC with no brand at all. They just care about the speed and memory of the computer, because they know it’s going to work anyway. As a result prices went downhill.

Another important factor here is the health one. As you probably know, when our health is involved we don’t hesitate about spending a lot of money. Given that most people today spend 8+ hours sitting on a desk, and given that the chair you use can either make or break your back (or so the manufacturers want us to believe!), you can understand why the demand for premium chairs is booming (and why prices are so high).

Now we have a more clear picture of what is going on. Still, when I look at my chair and at my computer, and remember their respective prices, I can’t help but get amused.

What about you, do you also find this curious? Do you think there are other factors shaping those prices? Leave a comment below.

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23 Responses to “The Computer Vs. The Chair”

  • Peggy

    Well, I have read most of the comments and I have kinda a different thought.

    We as a culture are lazy…yep, recliners and huge TV’s.
    We question the price on something that will and does educate or children. But will pay for lazy time.

    We use computers in schools everyday, daycare’s even use them in early childhood development for the kids to draw and color.

    We are able to control our destiny with computers, banking, business, stock market and on and on. All this has to do with work!
    We are Lazy.

    The chair however, big and soft and cushy, overstuffed, and overpriced. But, we as a culture are willing to pay for the comfort to watch sports and soaps on our $1,000 TV. But, we think it is OK for the kids to do their homework on a $229.00 netbook. Go figure?

    What would the alien say? Get a grip with your priorities. Get your fat butts out of the chair and take your kids and sit on the ground and have a picnic. Take along your iphones,ipads, and learn about the birds, the grass , the lakes and the trees. And call your grandmother that you haven’t spoke with in a month, because you have been to busy sitting in the comfy chair and watching TV. Heck send her a email.

    Only my thoughts.


  • Ari

    I think it is because the computers is become a mass products nowadays, the parts can be made in cheaper price (ex:made in China).

  • Kathy Berman

    After 15 years of searching for the best chair and several purchases, I now use my own creation. I use a broad-based wrought chair with large floor pillows from Pier One. I daily rotate them. I use two for the base and one for the back. They are held in one place–kind of–by large bath sheets. I am 70 and write 6-10 hours daily and with my carpal tunnel hand brace from Mueller am able to enjoy great painless blogging.

  • Gail Gardner

    The price of computers is subsidized to get them into as many hands as possible. Most of the PCs you buy at a major multi-national corporate store come with long-term Internet access obligations that underwrite the price.

    Chairs – to the best of my knowledge – have no supporters eager to pay for us to have them. If you realize the Orwellian march we’re involved in you might also wonder if the reason computers and cell phones and other tech gadgets are cheap is because they make it so much easier to track everything we do and everywhere we go – and most people will voluntarily give up their privacy to use them.

    One of these days we may have to make a decision though – freedom or gadgets – which will it be?

  • Philip

    Sure you can buy a cheap computer for less than a luxurious chair but that’s not really a fair comparison.

    To say that you can buy the “most powerful computer on the market” for $300 isn’t really true. That will get you what you paid for, a cheap computer that’s made to be a throwaway. To get “the most powerful computer on the market” you’d be looking at Intel i7 processors which alone could cost you anywhere from $300-$1000 (if you wanted the most powerful on the market). That’s not including graphics cards, monitors, etc, etc.

    You could get a cheap chair for free in somebody’s backyard.

    • Daniel Scocco

      $300 will get you an Intel Core i3. With $600 you can already get an i7, so not talking about “cheap computers you can throw away.”

  • Rudy – quit smoking blog

    We should not forget that prices of computers went down dramatically with the help of China and AMD.

    With cheap labor workforce in China and acceptable quality control, we could now buy cheap quality computers.

    AMD also forced Intel to bring down their prices of processors because of competition.

    In my opinion, I would still go for the computer as I could drag it along with me anywhere I want where I could write an article or two. I don’t mind much about the chair cause I can’t bring a luxurious chair in buses, trains, planes, parks, restaurants, malls, cabs etc. A simple chair where I could sit up straight is more than enough.

    Entertaining article by the way, thanks.

  • Karl

    I appreciate the concept of the post but your analogy is flawed. You’re comparing the extreme top of one market to the absolute bottom end of the other.

    Please, please, please let me know where I can purchase ” the most powerful personal computer on the market” for $300. You can resell them everywhere else for $1000+.

    • Daniel Scocco

      I was not using the extreme top on none of my examples. But we can use them too. That would be an Intel Core i7 against an Herman Miller Aeron chair. You can get the former for around $600 on eBay, which is cheaper than the chair.

  • Rishi

    Well its not always about comfortable cushioned chairs, it is about the efficiency you are left with after sitting on it all day long. I myself use an ergonomic medium-range Miller which I bought last December. It really works, makes you feel straightened for longer period even when I’m pulling an all-night study. No more back pains or neck issues.
    Compared to the computer, I entirely give preference to the “chair” over it. If you buy one of those costly Macbook Pro, you should really look into investing in a good ergonomic chair to sit for hours working.
    Health above everything. No wonder the price you pay for a good chair will be high than a cozy cushioned sofa which makes you sleepy.

  • Chris “The Traffic Blogger”

    It’s all about supply and demand.

    Computers have lots of demand but there is also quite a bit of supply to match that demand and drive prices lower through competition.

    Chairs on the other hand have just as much demand but no where near as many suppliers to compete with each other.

    What’s more, chairs are a necessity that people buy on a whim, whereas computers are usually purchased slower in order to find the best deal possible.

  • Mani Viswanathan @ DailyBlogging

    Well in my view both are important for proper work. It’s not about the pricing, but about the comfort it gives us. A proper cushioned char will be more comfortable than an ordinary one.

    P.S. Interesting Comparison. Enjoyed reading it through.

  • Bamboo Forest – Tick Tock Timer

    All I got to say is… how can we the people get chair prices down?!?!

    I don’t know how much they cost to manufacture, but I am certainly in favor of fair pricing :]

  • Nick Kern


    I enjoyed the article. . . but where’s the reader’s reward letter? I think the chair would initially confuse an alien more, but once they opened a computer that would be weirder!

  • Bert

    You’re not going to get the most powerful personal computer on the market for $300, but other than that, I believe you’re right.

  • Blain

    I recently purchased a Herman Miller Aeron chair and it is the best investment by far I’ve made this year other than the iPad 2. For sitting at my desk a minimum of 10 hours a day, I decided my health (and back pain) were not worth sacrificing long term. Having no back pain after a 10 hour day is priceless. Good read Daniel!

  • Robin

    I gave up with all the chairs after buying a laptop. Now I`m sofa user. 🙂

  • Destination Infinity

    I recently bought a chair (meant for temporary use) for $6 (USD Equivalent) near my place. I use two pillows to make it comfortable! 🙂 No computer is available at that cost! Chairs also have their commodity range… Just like how Apple Macbook Air / Premium is still able to extract a premium from its customers.

    • Kathleen

      I have added special cushions to my chair to make it comfortable. It is really important that I feel comfortable sitting in my chair as I tend to work for very long hours. 😀

  • E

    Where in the world are you finding a computer for $300?

  • hannah

    Similar to my addiction with new shoes verses keeping my partner fed… Shoes or in this case the perfect office chair goes some way to making your day to day life more fulfilled, bearable and mostly comfortable, your chair will be an investment for the future when 2011 hits the retro chic stage, then you will look back and try to remember just what computer you had back then…

  • Deb Augur

    I was just thinking about the same thing this morning because I sit at least 8 hours a day at my desk and need a new chair.

    My husband and I often discuss the seeming disparity in prices across products. For instance, you can buy a full stereo system as low as the price of an ipod. Hmm.

  • Justin | Mazzastick

    I got a top of the line desk chair as a gift from someone. Not everyone needs a desk chair but it seems like everyone needs a computer in our modern society.

    A desk chair provides physical comfort while a computer provides mental/emotional comfort. I guess we are willing to pay more for physical comfort.

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