Barry Smith: Authoritarian efficiency brightens every room |

Barry Smith: Authoritarian efficiency brightens every room

I was standing on the sidewalk at the Seattle Airport a few weeks back, waiting for my friend Kevin to pick me up. I had already collected my luggage and, as a convenience to him, was standing at the departures area so he could just drive right up and I’d hop in.

I was only there for about 30 seconds before I heard the automaton voice booming over the loudspeaker system outside:

“Parking or waiting is prohibited. You must be actively loading or unloading.”

And then I heard:

“Do not leave your vehicle unattended. It will be ticketed or towed.”

And then:

“Remember, there is no smoking on the sidewalk.”

Then back to the top:

“Parking or waiting is prohibited. You must be actively loading or unloading.”

Kevin took a little bit longer to arrive than I had anticipated, so I stood on that sidewalk for a good 45 minutes. The automated voice system repeats its cycle every two minutes (yes, I timed it). This means that I heard those three stern reminders over 20 times each in less than an hour. In fact, I didn’t really hear anything else.

Finally Kevin arrives. I wave him over and he pulls up, stops his car, gets out and walks around to greet me.

“Barry! It’s good to see you, man. Sorry I’m late, but the traffic was …”

“Whoa!” I shout, physically ushering him back to his car. “Do not leave your vehicle unattended. It will be ticketed or towed!”


“Yes, and now I must begin actively loading or unloading your vehicle, otherwise what you are doing may be construed as waiting, which is prohibited.”

I quickly threw my bags in the back, got in and closed the door.

“Rough flight or something?” Kevin asked.

“Remember,” I replied, “there is no smoking on the sidewalk.”

This went on for at least five more minutes.

Kevin asks: “So, how’s everyone in Aspen?”

I reply: “Do not leave your vehicle unattended.”

Kevin finally just turns the radio up real loud.

My Seattle trip is over now, and I am back at home, installing big speakers in my office. I have seen the benefits of the not-so-subliminal programming offered at the airport, and I have decided to incorporate it into my life. Because it’s time to get serious.

The speakers are pretty imposing, especially since my office isn’t that big. They take up the better part of each corner of the room. But volume is key. I learned that at the airport.

I should be done with the wiring this afternoon. Then I’ll record some reminders:

“You must be actively writing or editing. There is no looking at naked people on the Internet.”

“Do not leave your space heater unattended.”

“Eating cookies is not considered working.”

I’ll try those out first, then alter them accordingly.

My wife, Christina, is not so keen on my new motivational design. She suggested I just get some headphones. That’s because she didn’t spend time at the airport and see firsthand the corrective effects of futzy, booming repetition.

I considered setting up a system for her in her office, just to demonstrate how effective the authoritarian public address system can be, but then I remembered that she’s perfect. What’s the point of blaring “Keep doing exactly what you are doing” at her all day?

Once the office announcement system is in place, I’ll probably install a smaller speaker setup in the bathroom: “There are plenty of other places to read in the house.” “You must be actively unloading.” “Those sideburns look stupid on you.”

Within a year the entire house should be rigged. Each room will be a constant reminder of order, productivity and efficiency. The hallway will remind me to keep walking. The living room will shout out the benefits of living … of really living life to the fullest. The porch will see to it that I don’t forget to shut the door. The bedroom will never let me forget that her pleasure is important, too, and there’ll be no more unmade beds. The kitchen will keep me abreast of the latest findings on saturated fats and warn me to not get distracted by the newspaper comics while the grease is heating up.

And then, once my project is complete, I’ll finally be able to get some work done.

[Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Monday and Thursday. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at]

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