Home Office Geekdom: Two Paths to Glory

Posted on April 30, 2009

I need to buy a new office chair. My $100 Ikea office chair that I’ve used for the last couple years finally is beyond what duck-tape and super-glue can remedy and its time for a change. In looking at Ikea’s current selection of chairs I see no equivalent replacement and thus am having to look elsewhere. So I take a trip to my local OfficeDepot store and see what they have…. a big line up of high cost low quality chairs. Suddenly I’m struck with fear that I’m going to either buy a crappy chair at Target or get ripped off at OfficeDepot; either way I’m not going to be happy.

There are enough of you reading this who took the input “need” and “chair” to produce the thought “Buy an Aeron!” that I felt compelled to look into it. I’ve never liked following the crowd, so when Aeron’s became all the rage in ’99 I was put off by it. The big bubble bust only seemed to benefit geeks in one way… a lot of Areon chairs flooded the market as companies who’d just ordered hundreds of them went bust. The result was that the uber-expensive and exclusive chair become far more commonly possessed and I think opened the expensive chair market wide open.

So in examining my variety of choices in quality office chairs I’ve come to think even more broadly about my home office. I’ve worked from home for over 3 years now, but frankly I never actually made changes to my setup as a result. Being a geek I’ve always required a dedicated room as an office/den, if for no other reason to keep all the noise confined.

This led me to reflect on something I call the “two paths to glory”. That is, every geek seems to need to one-up those around them and somehow differentiate and prove their geekdom… this is done in one of two ways:

  1. More is More: These are the guys with a deep wallet that always have the fastest processors, biggest screens, flashy furniture, etc.
  2. Less is More: The geek who does the most with the least (and generally brags about it). The more obscure your setup the better.

In the old days this divided nicely along OS lines. The Windows and Mac guys would boast about their MacWorld or PC World top rated gadgets. The UNIX/Linux guys would boast about their SGI Indigo2 or 486 running Linux on a 14″ screen and how that was all you really needed. Recently, especially with the proliferation of affordable, powerful laptops the less-is-more crowd has tended toward a MacBook Pro… no office, no network, just a MacBook Pro and some wifi, if it can’t be done with that it doesn’t need doing.

So the lines blur when you work full time from home, suddenly your not sure which camp in which you fit. For instance, I bought a good desk several years ago and a cheap chair and I upgrade my Solaris workstation once a year with a complete system replacement around every 3-4 years. I only currently have a single system and that works for me. I just don’t see the point in putting a lot of money into lots of gear, because I got into system administration when I realized that the computers I really wanted to play with were so expensive I’d never be able to afford them…. the only way to use such gear was to let others pay you to do it. Sweet deal.

On the other side is the argument everyone has heard applied to mattresses: “You spend almost 25% of your life on your mattress, so [spend a lot]…” When I recently asked folks what they thought about paying $600 for a new office chair I was surprised how many people thought it was reasonable, with similar logic: “If you spend more than 8 hours a day in a chair, you’ve got to invest in a good one.” I understand the argument, but still can’t get past the sticker shock. $600 for a chair? $2 for a cup of coffee? What the hell is wrong with people!?!

This leads me to think the only rational explanation for the two camps is experience. That is, if I never spend time using a $1,000 chair or a 30″ display or whatever, I’m unlikely to feel I need it. But, if by some chance I do get that luxury, giving it up may be impossible. This jives with most of the Areon elite I know… they first used them in an office and then when they started working from home they just had to have them. Likewise, those like myself that don’t see the point are folks like me that either never had a choice in chairs or never gave them any thought and just used whatever was available.

The argument extends not only to chairs and workstations, but to input devices. To this day I only use Sun Type5/6 keyboards or cheapo $10 Keytronics. I only use mechanical 3 button USB Logitech mice because I absolutely hate mouse-wheels (hate hate hate!!!). I’m terrified of the day I have to diverge… but there are plenty of people who think that, like a chair, you’ve got to invest is $100+ keyboards and high end mice. Wierd. Granted, I’d love to have an Optimus Maximus, but then I’d actually prefer to just find a cheap Sun Type 5 to USB adapter. 🙂

So here is the question for you my friends….. in which camp do you fall? Do you equip your home office with a 24″ trihead Xinerama setup, high end desk, home NAS box, test box, workstation, laptop, Herman Miller chair and all the goodies you could to afford to buy from ThinkGeek? Or, are you like me, cheap and unaware of the need for such things, buying up gear when you find a deal but generally getting by with gear that does the job?