Saturday, November 29, 2008

Airports-windows to the future?

In the Greek language the word for ‘man’ is άνθρωπος, which is the product of the combination of the words ‘άνω’ (up) and ‘θρώσκω’ (to look). This means that the name man gave to himself was ‘one who looks up’, with the latter referring to god (who was expected to live in the skies…), but as well as to anything divine and superior in the broader sense. Man is ingrained with the ambition and desire to understand what is around him and ‘above’ him, this magic power that, at least the way we perceive the Universe, separates us from the other forms of life. Then, through the years we have learned to use the expressions ‘high technology’, ‘haute couture’, ‘high standards’ for the best and the ‘sky’ was always linked to excellence…

There are some places that can express this spirit, that can be considered as ‘temples’ of the mankind’s drive for progress and innovation; for sure some of them are airports. Back in the end of the 19th century, the pioneers of aviation were doing passionate efforts to conquer the skies and most of them were so dangerous resulting even in loss of lives. Such was the passion and the desire of these people to achieve what was regarded as impossible and through these efforts mankind was again ‘looking up’, but this time in the absolute sense… Hopefully all these efforts, driven by full devotion of mind and soul, succeeded and aviation is nowadays part of everyday life.
This fact has changed not only our way of life, but also the way we think, as flying with a plane is a new and unforgettable experience. Man is not made to stay kilometres above the Earth (or is he?), but he does it; even if landing may be scary sometimes, or presence the air cabin may bring some inconvenience. Nobody can say no to airplanes and in that way we are convincing ourselves that we can do achieve even more, that we may have limitations personally but not as a species.
In the meantime, while life may change, several aspects on mankind remain the same. Wars, prejudices, attitudes, weakness and in general social, personal and any other sort of human problems persist. And most probably that’s because we, as groups, societies, or as a whole, we don’t want to change! Many of us live lives ‘flying low’, convinced of our limitations and driven by our fears and weaknesses and most of all… we are ok with this! If there was a referendum, people would probably say no to airplanes, among several other things, like heart transplantation operations, submarines, lasers, etc. But, hopefully it doesn’t work that way and innovation springs from the minds and gets established through practice and following our needs.
For that reason there are not so many places which express this spirit of excellence, the tendency ‘to stare up’; even in many universities the attitudes are dominated by small hearted feelings, politics, or any other negative aspect of our existence. But airports cannot be like that, as in aviation there is no space for mistakes. Everything has to be and to look perfect, radiating a feeling of security and confidence; in an airport man has to and wants to be perfect. So, thanks also to some gifted architects, many airports can be called ‘temples of innovative spirit’, generating an ambience not so common in the real world.
Sitting in an airport lounge, watching the planes land and take off, takes you to the ‘future’, at least the one we would wish to have. I am not a ‘technology radical’ and I am deeply aware that several technological products have brought serious problems to people and the environment. But I cannot avoid being overwhelmed by the magic ambience of airports and everything that this may imply. Because by taking a moment to observe things after making a step backwards, I realise that I am in the situation in which man achieves things that I would just dare to imagine… And not only that, but he can also bring it to a level of functional perfection, proving that we have more potential than what we think. Even though this ‘other reality’ is restricted in few thousands of square meters and outside there is the ‘real world’ with the many problems… At least when you are in an airport you feel that you have to ‘look up’ and you can do the world better. And hopefully we will in the future…

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