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I’ve always loved airports. Which is weird, because I don’t like to fly. The whole flying-in-a-metal-tube-35,000-feet-above-the-Earth is just a little too much for my brain to comprehend. But there’s something about being in an airport: looking at all the travelers and wondering where they’ve been, where they’re going and what their plans are once they get there – it’s a bit romantic, no? An airport is undoubtedly one of the best places for people watching. 

Last fall I found myself at LaGuardia for a family vacation. Because I hadn’t flown in about a year, I was quite surprised by the change in the airport: what had been a construction zone for quite some time was now a series of shiny new shops, restaurants and kiosks that could rival the poshest of malls. But there was one “improvement” I found to be a terrible eyesore: it looked as if the Apple Marketing Fairy had descended and gone completely insane. The iPads…they were everywhere. And I mean, EVERYWHERE. In the waiting areas at the gates (on every seat). In the restaurants (at every table). At the quick-stop sandwich counters (it took longer to order a sandwich than it did to make it). Given the shear number of them, I was surprised not to see one in my stall in the ladies’ room. It was practically comical, so overdone that I just decided it must be some kind of pilot program – no pun intended – or an experiment on the most multinational consumer base possible. So I ignored it and went back to my people-watching.

As it turned out, LaGuardia wasn’t the only place this phenomenon had caught on. Yesterday I was back at Newark for a quick trip with a colleague. We arrived with time to spare before our flight, so we settled in for lunch at a sit-down restaurant where we found not one, not two, but FOUR iPads stationed between us at the table. Now, we’re both fairly tech-savvy people, but we still needed the waiter’s help to order lunch on the restaurant’s app. And forget about having a conversation – the screens were strategically positioned so that we couldn’t even see one another. We actually toyed with the idea of FaceTiming since there was no way these devices were going to let us have any real human interaction. Since I couldn’t look at my table mate, my eyes scanned the rest of the room where I observed a couple switching seats to sit on the same side of their table so they could speak, while another traveler turned his chair to be able to see something, anything, but the greasily-fingerprinted screen before him. Talk about unappetizing.

Look, I understand the importance of technology as well as anyone (I am, after all, writing this at 35,000 feet in a metal tube while connected to WiFi). At its finest, it can be an incredibly powerful tool, on a basic level a fantastic convenience and either way one hell of a marketing platform when used responsibly. But shoving it, along with a ton of shameless marketing, in the faces of consumers whether they want it or not is a big mistake. It’s invasive, annoying and counterproductive in a society that’s growing increasingly sick and distrustful of marketing. It’s as if a combination of industrial designers and Apple decided that we mustn’t have any sort of downtime for our brains – God forbid we have lively conversation that leads to independent thought when we could be browsing Yelp instead. Personally, I’m hard-headed enough to ignore the screens and go about my day, but I worry about others like my son who get sucked into the techno-realm all too easily. I want him to wonder, too…to look at people and ask where they came from, where they’re going and what they’ll do when they get there. Because that’s the only way he’ll determine the same for himself one day. So I ask the industrial designers of now and the future: please don’t feel the need to save us from human relationships and thought. I would end up in LaGuardia, or Newark or wherever – whether you slap an iPad in front of my seat at the gate or not. Save the cash and build me a nice floor-to-ceiling window to the outside instead, so I can sit there and wonder where all the planes are going.

~ Trish Salge, Sr. Art Director and Not-So-Frequent-Flyer, The S3 Agency


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