I ask myself this question a lot, “What were they thinking?” Sometimes I ask it out loud. Other times I ask it of other people. When I do that I almost always get a sympathetic nod or shrug of the shoulders. Every once in a while I have to explain myself, pointing out what, exactly, I mean, but then I get the nod or shrug afterward. I consider deferred nods and shrugs to be as good as instant ones. After all, a walk’s as good as a hit.
So, what do I mean? Well, let’s take the example below, which is a photo of Terminal A at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Notice the roller bags, which nowadays are everywhere, including grade schools. Notice, too, the tiled floor. Now, what do you suppose you get when you combine a roller bag with a tiled floor? What do you suppose you get when you add scores, hundreds, thousands of roller bags click-click-clicking on the tiled floors of all the terminals at Dallas-Fort Worth? You get the contemporary equivalent of the walls of Jericho coming down, except in this case there are no rams’ horns. Well, there might be; I didn’t see them listed on the prohibited item list at TSA.
What I don’t understand is that somebody somewhere somehow decided that this would be a good idea. You don’t start out with tiled floors. You have to add them, which means somebody had to request tiles, and then other people had to support this insidious idea by not challenging or questioning the guilty party.
I sat there in Terminal A, enveloped by the clicking and taking photos of all the roller bags that paraded before me. That got me thinking about other stupid ideas (I had a two-hour layover) such as my microwave that beeps four times when it’s done followed by intermittent beeps every thirty seconds if you don’t take the dish out you’re heating. I call it the “nag feature.”
Then there is the paper confirmation of my paperless statement from Macy’s, which I get every month in the mail and is apparently a requirement of NY State law. And the “free” movie I would get to see on the flight, although if I was interested in hearing it I would have to pay five dollars for earphones, which I “get to keep.”
We’ve all had these experiences, including ones much worse. Consider the DMV, IRS, Comcast, and, of course, the post office. The post office branch I go to in midtown is like entering a time warp (Soviet Union circa 1956). They serve up their postal expertise with attitude and occasional hostility. You’d better not have any questions or a difficult request like Christmas stamps. God help you if you want to open a post office box. I cringe at the thought.
The constant in all of these is that somebody at some time had to make a decision in favor of stupidity. Now, it probably didn’t seem stupid at the time, but it is highly likely that no one thought through the consequences. Is that part of the human condition? I don’t think so. I believe we can learn from our mistakes and take the time needed to think through our actions. Perhaps it is attention to detail that is lacking. Perhaps insufficient care. Perhaps the system is bigger than either one of us and we don’t amount to a hill of beans.
But think of the implications. If we slowed down and honored the time that each project requires rather than rushing through it to meet some deadline, we might have fewer wars, less poverty, and a better educational system. I actually don’t think that’s a stretch. At least it’s a start. I was never in favor of multi-tasking, anyway. It’s too confusing. Why not spend the time to think about how what we are doing affects others and what they are doing? Isn’t this systems theory? Am I way out on a limb here?
What it comes down to at DFW is that if the designers had spent more time thinking about the level of noise inside the airport, there might be slightly happier passengers. Happier passengers translate into greater profits. It’s a win-win. Without the clicking.
Of course, as a society if we spent more time thinking before deciding, there would be fewer divorces. “Seemed like a good idea at the time” is never a good reason to get married. But that’s another blog entirely.