Currently sitting in the D.C. airport – the people-watching is intriguing. Most people are in a hurry. Some appear lost or bored. All of them are carrying items. I wonder what is in their bags. And where are they all going? Why? What will they do when they arrive?
There are so many people. Even just in this airport, or on a single airplane, it is difficult to wrap my head around how many people there are and in such a small space. So many thoughts and feelings and breaths and heartbeats and years upon years of living history, all in one tiny little space.
There are many places to buy things in an airport. An airport is kind of like a mall. Actually, if you look with fresh eyes, it can become slightly difficult to discern the primary function of this building. Yes, everyone here is here to catch a flight. But far more transactions that center around food and items occur than planes take off. There is a Starbucks or a Dunkin Donuts every few hundred feet. There is a wide variety of meal choices, from many different fast food chains to nicer, sit-down dinner places complete with “patios” and customers drinking wine with napkins on their laps. Most of these different establishments are busy, complete with long lines of people waiting their turn at the entrance. An airport is a great place to make money. People have needs, and since they cannot leave the building once they are inside for their travels, they must satisfy them from within. People also want things, and there is something about buying oneself a treat in an airport that can often feel irresistible. The businesses in here have it made.
It is interesting to imagine how human behavior in airports might differ if there were no businesses of any kind (other than airlines) inside the building. Would people actually go hungry in between flights or, knowing that there are no eateries, would they bring their own food? Would there be more water fountains in the airport since people would not be able to purchase coffee, soda, alcohol, or any other beverage? Would people be in more or less of a hurry than they are now? How would the congregation of crowds differ? Would eye contact or passenger interaction be different? In the absence of goods for purchase, would mutual sharing and assistance arise if a person were in need? Would people fall apart without the opportunity to browse for clothes, snacks, books, and trinkets that they don’t need, or would some other pursuits besides shopping arise in its place as a successful and satisfying method to pass the time? For instance, games, conversation, meditation, bringing food and reading materials from home, or maybe even someone playing music at the gate.
I don’t think people are inherently dependent on being supplied with opportunities to consume in order to meet their basic needs or to be entertained, but as a culture we have certainly learned to behave that way – if, one day, suddenly none of the airports had businesses inside, it would be a mess at the beginning. I wonder how many people arrive at the airport with everything they need for their well-being already in tow. I wonder if, on that hypothetical day that airport businesses vanish, a wayward hungry person would be willing to ask a stranger for food. Probably not. Probably not, because we somehow created a world in which we are unable to trust each other most of the time. And, on the other side of the coin, we are also predominantly unwilling to share unless we receive immediate, appropriate compensation (like money). We guard our food and possessions so closely that we all almost always have to think twice before we help a person in need. Most of the time, any favor another person asks of us would be of very little consequence to our own well-being, but would add significantly to theirs; yet, we still find it hard to part with half of our sandwich, or a dollar.
I wonder how people would be different if we were not in such an overwhelming habit of consumption, and if we no longer set so much store on the perception that buying things is entertaining and brings happiness. I think people would share more. I think people would talk more and become increasingly creative. I think people would access plentiful wells of resourcefulness, flexibility and self-reliance. Ultimately, I think people would begin to trust each other again, because we would be relating to each other more directly than is possible when money is at the center of our interactions. I am not against airport businesses and I am not against money, but our dependence on consumerist behavior has created an altered human dynamic.
Also, there is a bird in this airport. It just flew by me, down the hall. I hope it finds its way out of here. It must be frustrated and terrified right now. My heart goes out to you!