What’s so damn important that it can’t wait till we land?
unreachable /nritəb(ə)l/ adj. unable to be reached or contacted; inaccessible.
Sorry to spell it out but I wanted you to see the true meaning of this wonderful word one last time before it disappears into the kind of thin air that airplanes with Wi-Fi flap about in.
Technobabble has brought about many new dictionary definitions, from floppy disks to hard drives and everything in between. But now technology is making the dictionary thinner rather than fatter by rendering words such as ‘unreachable’ passé, or at least confined to describing children’s footballs in tree branches.
I’m no hermit but, as far as I’m concerned, the best time is down time, being off limits, as unreachable as that children’s football. That’s one of the reasons I love flying. No one can contact me and I’m free to switch off both my mind and the ever-increasing number of gadgets that keep it connected to the world.
Flying is about freedom, about the wild blue yonder. It’s a beautiful irony that life stops while you’re rocketing along just shy of the speed of sound. But soon it will stop no more.
I recently rocketed from Dubai to Rome on the state-of-the-art Airbus A380 – the behemoth bird, the double-decker, the 500-seat settlement with wings. This is the world’s largest commercial aircraft, so big it should have its own postcode when it lands. Whoever said size doesn’t matter didn’t work for Airbus. I would hate to be a cloud these days.
As usual I was flying cattle class but I stole a peek upstairs as I boarded and am fairly sure I spied a waterfall, or perhaps it was just a waterfall effect on the wall. Whatever it was, the only waterfall I have hitherto encountered on a long-haul flight was a leaking loo. Apparently there’s a bar up there as well; one of the few bars on, err, earth that you can stumble away from and blame it on turbulence.
I was looking forward to the flight as much as the holiday because for me ‘getting away from it all’ starts when the pilots throttle the throttles. As I ordered a drink and reclined my chair further than I had expected it to recline, the purser announced that our cutting-edge craft was equipped with, da-da-ding, free Wi-Fi! This elicited an audible cheer from a number of passengers. It was as though they had been told we had enough oxygen for the journey.
But I’m getting off track, which is dangerous when you’re flying. Where was I? Ah, yes – 30,000 feet above the Arabian Desert, about as remote as you can get from Abbott Street, yet I could still receive unsolicited emails hawking Viagra. Heavens above!
Live television, internet and, very soon, the possibility of using your mobile phone will be par for the celestial course. And it’s not just the A380 that might soon become a flying phone booth, with Boeing recently announcing that its much-anticipated Dreamliner will also permit the use of mobile phones. Sounds more like the Nightmareliner to me.
Call me a dinosaur, or a Pterodactyl in this case, but I don’t want to be able to use my mobile phone on a commercial flight, or at least a long-haul commercial flight. Yes, I know I can switch it off if I wish to remain unreachable, but I can’t turn yours off, or those of the other 500 people on board. And some very important people have two mobiles these days.
A few weeks after that flight I was minding my own business on a London bus when the phone of a female passenger behind me played a tune I am too old to recognise; it wasn’t Gangnam Style, but no doubt would be now. I also wouldn’t recognise the passenger because I didn’t see her face.
There is nothing I don’t know about her love life, however. (He’s ‘babe-a-licious’) Or her new job. (It’s ‘pants’, which means ‘displeasing’ in the UK.) Or her flatmate. (Won’t wash the dishes and picks his toenails when he watches a film.) Or last Saturday at the pub. (Drank too much.) Or the location of her next piercing… (Ouch!)
Everything the person on the other end of the line said was greeted with “presh”, which I’m assuming meant “precious”, and which, in a remarkable parallel, describes how I am on the subject of mobile phones and public transport.
At first I quite enjoyed her conversation. Writers love listening to the lives of people. But after three or four stops and 15 mentions of the word “presh” I wanted to tell her to pierce her tongue rather than her belly-button, if only because it might shut her up for a bit.
The one thing I clang onto on the 271 to Highgate Village was the fact that my stop wasn’t far away. Imagine, however, how I might have felt had we been 30,000 feet above the Arabian Desert with six hours of unintentional eavesdropping ahead. Perhaps that’s why there’s a bar on board.
I’m sure the airlines will ask us to consider our fellow passengers in terms of phone usage, to put our gadgets on vibrate and to speak softly. Perhaps they will have sections of the plane where you can use phones and sections where you can’t. But that’s not the point. There is something wonderful about distance, about being remote, about not having everything immediately, about anticipation…
As the world shrinks and communicating with others seems to preoccupy the planet more than feeding every person on it, the beauty of distance disappears.
And that is far from presh.
Just don’t tweet him when he’s in the air: Chris’s Twitter
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