What is it about working on planes?

I spent several hours on the plane working on the talk I’m giving at the philosophy of telecommunications convergence (I’m giving several others, but they’re either completely informal or already scripted to within an inch of their lives). I worked through a new angle that brings together some stuff I’ve been reading on cognitive psychology with the work I’ve been doing on the shape of the post-cyberspace world, and while I’ve got some more to do to it, I’m pretty pleased with the basic framework.

I now do some of my best thinking on planes, and I’m trying to figure out why– and how I can replicate it on the ground.

Part of it is that the flight is often the last serious block of uninterrupted, reasonably conscious time I have to work on a talk. The pressure is on, and either I deliver now or I face screwing up. But I think a big part of it is the utter neutrality of the space: the cabin is a blank space, free of distractions but generally plentiful in caffeine. It’s physically blank– other than the other passengers, there’s very little to look at or be distracted by, except for the movie– and therefore psychologically blank.

I wonder how to recreate this at home. I’ve been playing with ideas for a home office that involve lots of hulking Ikea bookcases, which would let me bring books home from the office and out of storage; and while I still need that, I wonder if perhaps the actual space where I sit and write should be a lot plainer– just white or wood, without so much as a pencil cup, just a chair and whatever I carry into it.

[To the tune of Django Reinhardt, “Nuages,” from the album “The Best of DJango Reinhardt”.]

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2 thoughts on “What is it about working on planes?

  1. Thomas says:

    Know what you mean! My preferred working spaces are waiting rooms, trains, airports, (but not airplanes because they are too noisy and turbulence shakes me up!), cafés and so forth.

    I remember Niels Jerne once said to me that he loved to sit reading in the big waiting room in the Copenhagen Central Station, because there were a lot of people around so he didn’t feel lonely, yet he didn’t have to care about them.

    That’s the key I think: If you sit in an isolated work space, you are not disturbed but you are also constantly reminded of the social relations you miss. However, in a crowd of anonymous people you get both: you have people around you, and you are not disturbed.

    Must be some management and organisation people who have studied this phenomenon.




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