You know that unique peace that can be achieved on a plane, when you’re gliding through the mountainous landscape of a cloud formation, all your cares and attachments 10,000 feet down below? That feeling is about to be shattered by the inane chatter of your several hundred fellow travelers.
The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday that it is now seriously considering letting fliers use their cellular data during a trip, including making phone calls, and the public is up in arms. A San Diego resident who makes frequent cross-country trips hit the nail on the head when she told The Washington Post, “I travel a lot and consider my time in the air a chance for many things—reading, thinking, sleeping or catching up on work but certainly not for listening to people chat on the phone.”
Reading, thinking, sleeping… It’s hard to do these things effectively when there’s some teenager next to you, whining to her parents on the phone in a tone you’d think only dogs could hear, or some guy hunched toward the window, having what’s clearly a tense conversation with his wife. But the hardest thing of all is to read/think/sleep when you yourself are on the phone, or are rotating between Twitter and email, pulling the page down with your thumb—refresh, refresh, refresh. When the FCC started toying with cell phones on planes, my first thought wasn’t dread at how my neighbors might ruin my flight, but at how I might squander my own chance to, however briefly, unplug. Now that the FCC is telling us that a single text message dispatched to one’s mother will probably not cause the entire 250,000 pound aircraft to veer off-course, that myth reveals itself to be the best kind of nanny state-ism, a benevolent lie that bought us time away from our self-inflicted constant connectedness. Sure, I could still leave my phone turned off at the bottom of my bag for the duration of my next six-hour flight to Los Angeles, but if my day-to-day efforts not to look at it every few seconds are any indication, I won’t. The last time I read uninterrupted for two hours, I was definitely on a plane.
So, I agree with the critics: There’s nothing like an afternoon spent listening to other people’s phone conversations to destroy your faith in humanity. But the person whose in-flight cell use I really want to be protected from isn't you. It's me.