avatarDr Stuart Woolley

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The Incestuous Scourge Of Airport Business Books

Pulp non-fiction for the masses, opium for the managers, recycled toilet paper for the rest of us.

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Karl Marx’s widely quoted line “religion is the opium of the people” is often commonly misunderstood to be describing religion as something of a drug that people get to like and therefore continual to subscribe to, primarily through habit. However, it’s actual and far more literal meaning is more along the lines of religion literally being an opiate, masking the pain inherent with the endurance of day to day life which is often harsh unforgiving, and dreadfully cruel. Especially in software engineering.

A thought occurred to me recently when I had the unfortunate experience of travelling through an airport and had to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find something to do without spending all of my available cash on something I don’t need, want, or wish to experience again in a few hours head bowed down over a plastic toilet at 30,000ft somewhere in UK airspace.

They’re all pretty much the same these days of course, overly sanitised experiences of brightly lit overpriced faux shopping centres designed to maximise airport profit, minimise passenger comfort, and all having the (often delayed) added bonus of a tortuous plane ride at the end with all the “fun” that also entails².

I can understand the captive market and how it works — limited food and drink options, supposed duty free that doesn’t allow filming (though it’s laughably easy to check the prices really aren’t better than the High Street at all), and overpriced and overhyped “luxury” brands designed to make you feel that modern day travel is something of a luxury.

What I don’t understand though, at all, are airport bookshops.

Not only because the vast majority of books are digital these days or that the large hard backed tomes on offer are regularly discarded soon after the flight in airport lounges, hotel lobbies, or just in hotel rubbish bins³, but because of the unfeasibly large amount of pulp non-fiction business bullshit on offer.

I did wonder who actually reads the simplistic drivel presented in plain view on these shelves of business detritus. Surely⁴, there aren’t that many LinkedIn “thought leaders” or “top voices” around — besides, they’re more likely to be the authors of these free ebooks laser printed in shed excuses for literature.

Do people pick them up to showboat to others within the cabin, perhaps?

I honestly can’t remember being impressed by things about what CEOs do at 4am, how to climb some ladder of success or other, how to unlock, innovating, or perish on demand, by accident, early, late, or never.

And I’m definitely not impressed by someone needing to pivot, elevate, or breakthrough anything during the cruise phase of any flight I’m on thank you very much.

From what I understand, as I have scanned some of these infeasible large volumes (which on its own is wryly amusing considering the little to no knowledge they actually contain) that people have left around various office locations, in toilets, or on buses (see earlier — disposal of said tomes), they all revolve around giving advice around “success” in one way or another.

Well, I reasoned that there’s no better place indeed than to copy paste the contents of your business blog, LinkedIn posts, or ChatGPT generated drivel than the fast paced market of airport bookshelves.

This is primarily because they’re hidden from general public view and will only be seen by “business” travellers — tourists (and everyone else) wouldn’t give them a second look — who’re all obviously out to impress each other with their own business acumen, monogramed wheelie cases, and underarm carried business self-help guides too.

I then began to understand that there’s a whole microcosm of these things, serving a whole other microcosm of people in the business world carrying them around, posting about them on LinkedIn, and them leaving them in all kinds of odd places so that they have the baggage allowance (and physical space) to get some more on the return trip.

“Synergy + Symbiosis + Airport Bookshops = Profit” from “Fly fast, climb high, sell crap” a forthcoming eBook by the author

Much like other sectors of late stage capitalism it is a bit of a race to the bottom, however, as there’s only so many ways you can rephrase “try a bit harder” and “learn a bit more” or “get up earlier” before people start to realise that it’s all a bit the same.

Luckily, as I hinted at earlier, few people actually read the books as the focus is on snazzy short titles, eye catching covers, and simplistic tag lines that make promises that can, in all reality, never be kept.

So, if you’re interested in seeing what it’s all about always remember not to buy the actual things as there’s always a business person nearby eager to unload some of their own personal pre-pulped cargo.

Or (avoiding any kind of personal interaction with a prospective business guru in an airport environment) you could just check out the tables in the lobby of your hotel, under the back seat of your taxi⁵, or the shelf behind the toilet in the airport loos.

Failing that, you could even just read LinkedIn and put your bosses email in the usual “fill in your details to get your free ebook!” popup box next time you accidentally click a link in someone’s profile and get the digital version.

[1]: Sometimes also translated as “religion is the opiate of the masses”. [2]: Your choice of carrier may vary, though if you’re offered lottery tickets, bacon rolls at the temperature of molten hot lava, and coffee that tastes like it was harvested from the bottom of a fish tank then it’s probably Ryanair — and they’re actually at the better end of the budget spectrum these days. [3]: Trash cans, for our cousins. [4]: And don’t call me Shirley. [5]: Or “uber” if you’re one of them.

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