Relax with personal screens in every seat

By | March 8, 2012

Day 4 of our photo blog

'If screening hinges on pleasure, this in no way means that screening practices are superfluous. Indeed, even at their most pleasurable and seemingly distracting, screens are functional apparatus, administering and facilitating the everyday operations of airports. For instance, Gillian Fuller helpfully outlines the screening function of airport windows in her essay “Welcome to Windows 2.0: Motion Aesthetics at the Airport.” As Fuller explains,

Airports do not merely sort and sequence our bodies, they also guide our perceptions. Airports work our feelings, as well as our baggage and identification data. They move us in many ways. We glide on moving walkways in air-conditioned comfort, shielded from the heat of the tarmac and the chill of the rain that exits and entrances. Cocooned from the smell of avgas and uncontrollable weather, the sound of planes is barely discernable—the threatening roar of jet power dampened by thick layers of clear glass. Within the glassy sheath of the airport, we can hear the chatter of the movement and calm calls of announcement systems. . . . Sensually there is a lot going on, but at the airport the visual dominates. All senses are diverted to a sublime vision of transparency .

The absorptive screen also takes flight, as we noted in Don DeLillo’s play Valparaiso , wherein the main character watches his own plane take off, virtually on the screen while feeling it actually happen to his body. A Qantas airlines advertisement (in an Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine, no less) reads: “Relax with personal screens in every seat.” The ad features two giddy passengers who are equally and separately fixated on their respective glowing seatback screens—the grinning man plays a video game with both hands, while the woman sips white wine, absorbed in some other program.

Relax with Quantas
Figure 5.9 “Relax with personal screens in every seat” (© Qantas)

Such airline campaigns for personal screens, embraced ever more widely, suggest a confused baseline of desired communication and happy solipsism inherent in flight, and the priority of the visual collapsed into an airborne host of bodily comportments and sensations.

As I have shown in this chapter, networks of screens and practices of screening encompass the culture of flight: screening spreads beyond the checkpoint, and penetrates all aspects of air travel. The closer we look at this tangle, the more elaborate and loose-ended it appears. In Chapter 6 , I widen the view in order to consider the subject of airports at large—how airports themselves can be rethought of along lines of aesthetic and philosophic experimentation. Airports are more than just transition zones: they are spaces for study.'

– The above is an extract from our book, The Textual Life of Airports by Christopher Schaberg – now available to buy. You can exclusively read the introduction and first chapter of the book here.

Jenny Tighe

Marketing Manager

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