Popular IKEA Chair Turns Computer Monitor Off, Baffling Everyone

A programmer was confused when his office chair started zapping his 4K monitor. Then he found other people complaining about the same problem.
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Image: IKE

Of the necessary parts that people might need to actually get work done in front of a computer, only a few of them generally don’t need to be plugged into a power source.

One of those is the adjustable office chair, a cloth-or-foam-or-leather object that generally uses a gas-powered lift mechanism.

So imagine the confusion when your computer monitor is for some reason on the fritz, and when you’re trying to figure out what’s up, you realize that your fancy-looking IKEA chair might be to blame.


Surprising as that sounds, this is the state of affairs that recently faced Felix Häcker, a German developer who works on the popular GNOME open-source project. In a viral Mastodon thread last week, he revealed that he specifically had problems with his MARKUS chair, a high-backed model with fabric webbing that’s relatively fancy for the Swedish chain.

“The only correlation I could find was that the screen only goes off when my IKEA office chair is somehow involved,” he wrote in the thread.

(We reached IKEA for comment, but have not heard back.)

In an email, he said that the issue had only emerged recently, after he upgraded his monitor to a 4K model. “I didn’t even know that a simple chair could cause such problems until recently,” he explained.

But when faced with the annoyance, which occurred when he got up or sat down, he found himself looking for a variety of issues, including loose cabling and perhaps even accidentally bumping the table.

Out of frustration, he switched out the chair with another chair. Suddenly, the problem was gone.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said when he made the realization. ”Who would believe me? How can you even credibly communicate such an absurd problem to someone else?”

Fortunately for him, he was not the only person who had issues with the MARKUS chair—or with office chairs in general. A German-language computer forum included a post with a similar issue, with commenters noting that either the cushion or the lift on the chair could generate enough static electricity that it could affect some monitor models. One poster revealed that they had to attach a copper wire to “ground” the chair.


This Static Incident Isn’t Isolated

Now, to be clear, issues of electrostatic discharge are not particularly uncommon with computers, especially with monitors. It’s long been recommended by repair experts to “ground” yourself when taking apart a machine, to prevent yourself from shorting an important part. Monitors, especially of the cathode ray tube variety, are especially prone to electrostatic discharge issues, requiring periodic degaussing to help prevent scrambled colors.

And nor is this issue limited to the MARKUS chair, either, and it’s long been known. Back in the 1990s, Douglas C. Smith, then an employee of AT&T Bell Labs, published a paper discussing how electrostatic discharges can become problematic in certain settings.

“It is clear that chairs, such as described in this paper, should not be used around mission-critical equipment such as medical equipment, airport control towers, and communication equipment,” he wrote. “Although such equipment is designed with immunity in mind, it is not prudent to test the equipment’s immunity during everyday operation.”

Smith’s point of view isn’t unusual, either—it’s cited by the firm DisplayLink, which develops standards for allowing displays to work over nonstandard connections like USB or Wi-Fi.

And this issue with ESD can show in other ways. For example, I sometimes run into an issue with my headphone set where, if it’s plugged into my laptop, noise cancellation is turned on, and I’m not touching a metal surface, it makes a loud buzzing noise. It’s forgotten about today, but we are often navigating around a lot of static electricity just to use our computers.

I asked Häcker about his setup some more, and he noted that he was on a laminate floor, using a wooden table with aluminum legs, and was using a plastic mat to protect the floor. Doing some more research, he noticed something interesting: He was able to reliably cause the screen to go black without his feet touching the ground—first rubbing his back against the fabric webbing on the chair, then shifting his weight forward on the seat.

“I suspect that leaning forward triggers an ESD by the gas suspension,” he noted.

Is your chair causing problems with your monitor? It might be a good idea to invest in an anti-static chair mat that can help dissipate any static pulled up by friction. But if worse comes to worst, you might want to check the chair.