Legroom (Part 1 of 3) – Now Boarding Cubeopolis

What would (or do) cubesters pay for “calculated misery”?

Tim Wu @superwuster, you are this Anthrocubeologist’s current accidental muse. You have inspired me to think about the calculated misery of the workspace by cubesters’ choices.

I unexpectedly(!) thought of this question while reading an article about airline fees – Why Airlines Want to Make You Suffer – by Tim Wu for The New Yorker.

clip_wu story
Article by Contributor Tim Wu for The New Yorker

Wu’s article has the framework of workspace, interactions, and choice that interest me. The “workspace” is the airplane and airline travel experience, choice is expressed based on the fee(s) a traveler is willing (and able) to pay, and the outcome includes a particular level of expected and unexpected interactions. Workspace, choice, interactions – part of the framework for anthrocubeology.

Airlines Fee-Based Models

The article outlines what many may already know – the motivations and elements of airlines’ fee-based models. Essentially, we are trained to choose and pay for what we will endure about our airplane travel; the airlines profit from our choices.

While reading his article, several references caught my attention –

boarding in a “fast lane” . . . sitting in slightly better economy-class seats . . . (y)ou only pay for what you want . . . “calculated misery. . . necessity of degrading basic service . . . fee-avoiders . . . status racket . . . hope of avoiding paying more . . . five different classes of service . . . economy minus . . . class inequality

– and while many references are familiar to me, the term calculated misery was not familiar to me. (I giggled nervously.)

As an Airline Traveler

I like a good deal. I hover around 5 feet tall. Most trips I take are domestic with few long-haul trips. I am indifferent to airline food. I can entertain myself with my laptop or tablet. More often, I can read or nap or power through work. I am fine checking-in baggage; typically my carry-ons can fit under the seat in front of me.


That said, my preference is NOT PAYING A FEE for anything, if I can help it, especially if I am not reimbursed in money or some other future voucher. However, that is not realistic today.

So what will I pay for?

I’ll look for flights that are lower-priced, leave and arrive at convenient and preferred times of day, and have enough flexibility and least (to no) charges if my plans change or I have to re-book something else. If I have to check-in baggage for a fee, I’ll likely check-in an over-sized luggage. Center-seat? Sure, if I must; by the way, I will exert my territorial rights. I MAY pay for the airline food but likely out of convenience and my laziness.

And why do I pay for certain features?
Short answer: I do so depending on what I decide my bank account and mindset will tolerate.


It’s a short-lived intellectual and emotional decision. And I will take the slow lane when I go through the security check. (This is because I arrive early to reduce travel stress.)

As an Anthrocubeologist

Thank you Mr. Wu. I was delighted to have this resonate for me, likely unintended by you.

That said, the rest of what I am writing in this Part 1 (and Part 2 and Part 3) is not intended to be a direct analogy to Wu’s article. Rather, I am using the information Wu has shared to “map” (improv-related) upon anthrocubeology and inspire some thoughts about workspace culture shifts.

Here is my starting point and my thought process

Half-way through Wu’s article is when I thought of cubeopolis; this caught my attention –

But the fee model comes with systematic costs that are not immediately obvious. Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as “calculated misery.” Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.

– and when I shared this article and quote in Facebook, I was pleasantly surprised to see friends’ comments (to be shared in Part 2 of this series).

Continuing my thought process

I am guessing there is not (outside of research papers about organizational development and analysis) readily available information on “calculated misery” that exists about workspaces and employee choices. However, there is something in play – intentionally or unintentionally. Something that the workspace (aka cubeopolis) is creating. Something that cubesters are signaling to cubeopolis. Something that may be externalized.

Cubeopolis culture as an externality, perhaps.

Perhaps as a side project, I will come up with something cheeky (or not so cheeky) based on personal experience and comments from friends and colleagues. But for now –

What do you think would be (or is) part of  “calculated misery”  for workers?


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