round trip…

In plain sight, a writer sits at a desk in the middle of Heathrow Airport’s terminal 5.  Alain de Botton is the writer spending a week at the new Terminal 5 and documenting what he sees. He’ll publish his work in a book this fall and hand out 10,000 copies to travelers passing through the terminal.

Writer Alain de Botton at his desk in Heathrow's Terminal 5.

Heathrow officials hired de Botton, as a literary experiment in an effort by the airport to repair an image tarnished by Terminal 5’s flubbed debut last year. The new terminal was supposed to be a technological marvel, but the state-of-the-art robotic baggage handlers broke down, snarling the system and stranding thousands of travelers.

The whole idea of the “man on the street” or “eyewitness reporter” is nothing new to the media. Neither is the idea of hiding in plain sight.  What may be of relevance per Mr. de Botton in terminal 5 is what will he attract…aka. he’s on display.  As a “side show” will Mr. de Botton get any work done, or will his work be done for him?

Lesson / Koan : The confessions of strangers reflects in a universal mirror for all to see.

Two examples during the weeklong public behavior experiment are seemingly important. 1. The train of thought CUPtopia presents is only really about a very few things.  2. A comment yesterday by Griffin Ofiesh.

Example 1 : everyone has needs

1. “The one really unexpected thing, I was approached by the head of baggage. He’s, like, number three in the organization. He’s got a big job. He came along, and he was hilarious. He sat down at the desk next to me and said, I can’t take it. I am fed up. I want to see a tree. I have not seen a tree in so long, I’m going to go mad. He goes, I work in the bowels of this building, and I want to see a tree. You know, even the center of the most technological system of probably the most modern airport in the world, this terminal. And it’s driving him nuts.

Example 2 : everyone has heros

File:Haruki Murakami signture.svg

The signature of Haruki Murakami.

2. “Some lovers were parting. She must have been 20, he a few years older. Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” was in her bag. They had oversized sunglasses and have come of age in the period between SARS and swine flu. They were dressed casually in combat trousers and T-shirts. It was the intensity of their kiss that first attracted my attention, but what had seemed like passion from afar was revealed at closer range to be unusual devastation.

Both examples reveal information about the given situation and the writer’s ability to tell a bit about himself…and what baggage is essential.

In August 2008, Mr. de Botton was a founding member of a new educational establishment in central London called The School of Life. The School of Life – a new cultural enterprise based in central London offering intelligent instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life. In an interview with de Botton said:

The idea is to challenge traditional universities and reorganise knowledge, directing it towards life, and away from knowledge for its own sake. In a modest way, it’s an institution that is trying to give people what universities should I think always give them: a sense of direction and wisdom for their lives with the help of culture.


In a classroom, a teacher tells a students about a book, about an author which may assist the understanding of the course material.  Years later, the teacher realizes the students has read the book.  More importantly, the students has told others to read the book.

Alain de Botton is also the author of The Architecture of Happiness (2006), he discusses the nature of beauty in architecture and how it is related to the well-being and general contentment of the individual and society.

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