Story Tubes | שפופרת ספורים

By Daniel Shapiro, MC’19

In this piece, Daniel describes his experience talking to strangers on airplanes. He discusses how important it is to listen to and absorb stories everywhere you go.



I think that airplanes are incredibly special. Two hundred people flying from one place to another, really quickly. I have just three hours to find out all that I can about the people around me. There really aren’t many times when I can learn so much in so little time about our society, the human condition. Here’s a story.

When I flew to Boston, I sat right next to a man who, it turned out, worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researching wireless power and energy transfer. We talked physics, energy use in our society, and graduate programs. However, when he got up and went to the bathroom, I noticed something really strange.

The woman sitting next to me was playing with everything she had — her book about habits, her Sky Mall, her water bottle, even her keys, to the chagrin of everyone around. After some time, she mustered up the courage to ask me if I could open her water bottle. I opened it and, apparently, her life story. She told me about her boyfriend of one year who she met on September 11th, through Tinder, who was a Green Beret! Sitting there, I was wondering why this woman opened up so completely to a stranger on a plane. About this time, the man who went to the bathroom came back and we started talking about human relationships. The rest wasn’t as interesting.

Another time, when I was flying from New York to Chicago, I sat next to a woman who was a theater professor. We talked about the ephemeral time when actors let the audience into their world before the play ends. In two hours, I learned about the philosophy, techniques, and beauty of theater. All I had to do was listen.

People in the USSR (my parents included) were known to talk with complete strangers on the train for hours — about mathematics, reasons why there was no food in the store, and their children in America. Now, 30,000 feet in the sky, we still enjoy the stories of people on board. On every aircraft, there are hundreds of them. Think about planes not as tubes of people, but rather tubes of stories: you just have to know when to listen.

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