Texts, tweets, emails and other inanities at 36,000 ft
As of next month Air New Zealand passengers will be allowed to use mobiles while on board, enabling Kiwi jet-setters to advise their loved ones that their flight is on schedule and they’ll be home by sucks.
What really sucks about this move is that it will destroy the sole remaining bastion of public peace, the sanctuary of the aircraft, which in this hyper-connected modern world is the only escape from texts, tweets, emails, and the sheer horror of the loud and long-winded conversations of strangers.
I’ve never been to New Zealand but from what I can gather it consists of two islands, each of them about 500km long, with a large airport in the middle somewhere so that its citizens can emigrate to Australia to find work. Based on this rough estimate the longest domestic flight in NZ would take about 40 minutes and the extremely popular one-way flight to Bondi only marginally longer.
This begs the question as to why anyone would find themselves incapable of going without a phone for such a brief period of time.
I was talking to an old mate on the weekend where we trying to remember how it was that, just 20 years ago, we managed to maintain an even more energetic social life without having mobiles. Some people even managed to meet members of the opposite sex without sending saucy Warne-esque tweets and texts or befriending them on Facebook.
These days the idea of leaving the house without a phone, even to go to the corner store, fills most of us with dread. The concept of meeting up with anybody, ever, without using a mobile phone seems to possess as high a degree of difficulty as tracking down Osama.
And it’s flying which gives one of the best insights into how desperate people are to remain connected – just watch as people have their phones at the ready to turn them back on the moment the rubber hits the runway, like drug addicts getting a fix.
Thanks to Air New Zealand we can panic no more.
The carrier’s determination to be the first airline to allow in-flight phone calls, emails and messaging shows the extent to which we have become so absurdly reliant on mobile communications.
Just as we used to start and finish each day by brushing our teeth, the first and last thing which any Blackberry or iPhone owner now does, this one included, is to check their inbox.
Flying is now the only place where we are safe from the tyranny of permanent connectivity. It’s a tyranny which operates on several levels. For the owner of the phone it’s the sense of being constantly pestered by work-related emails and meeting requests, the dread of seeing the words “unknown number” flash up on the screen and swallowing hard before taking the call (or feeling guilty for ignoring it), the permanent sense of intellectual inadequacy at seeing so many tweets with links to interesting articles which you rarely get time to read.
For all of us, even that 0.001 per cent of the population which still eschews technology, there’s the downside of what could be called passive conversation. Far more annoying than those sweet wafts of sidestream cigarette smoke, this is the unwelcome and usually inane bleating of the fellow train traveller talking to Cheryl about how she pashed Darren after the party and had spent the whole weekend just hating herself, or the yup, yup, yupping of the frazzled executive doing business on the run.
The irony of all this is that technology was meant to give us more time and make us more sociable but so often it feels as if it has the absolute reverse effect.
As a result of Air New Zealand’s actions air travel will now become every bit as annoying as general life. As night follows day once Air NZ allows phone use other airlines will follow.
One curious aspect to Air New Zealand’s decision is that the airline itself was only recently mentioned in a formal report into the flight risks of on-board phone use. The New York Times last month cited a 2003 plane crash in Christchurch in which eight people perished as an example where a mobile was believed to have interfered with the plane’s navigational equipment. However, a final report into the incident by the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission found that “the pilot’s own mobile phone may have caused erroneous indications” on the navigational aid.
Setting aside the risk of death, the greater risk is that we will now all be driven completely mad as the last venue for silent reflection is destroyed by a barrage of beeps and a background of blather. It would be interesting to know whether the airline has actually polled its passengers as to whether they support this latest technological development. My guess is that many would not, and that any airline which says it won’t allow phone use anyway could make a pretty penny out of our desire for some elusive peace and quiet.
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