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Technology at 35,000 feet

Robert Polk //November 11, 2009//

Technology at 35,000 feet

Robert Polk //November 11, 2009//

Being able to check my e-mail at 35,000 feet is a fabulous, wonderful, double-edged sword. Here’s what’s great about it: flight time is now useful time. Here’s what’s terrible about it: flight time is now useful time.

I travel a lot, and I am sure most of the smart people I work with enjoy having a few days a month when I can’t bug them for anything. That’s all over now.

This useful time also severely cuts into my “daydream-while-looking-out-the-window” time. I remember when travel was an elegant, formal experience, and when flying somewhere was a really big deal.

I still have that feeling when I am able to watch the landscape change as I crisscross my way across the country. There is just something humbling about being able to see the scenery of our nation from 35,000 feet that I will never be able to take for granted, no matter how many times I take to the air.

All daydreaming aside, I do think it is valuable for what used to be downtime to now be useful, allowing me to get some work done before I get to that important meeting, or, on the flip side, get home to my family after a business trip. With all of the things that airlines are charging fees for now, this is a service that I think is worth the price, and one that I am happy to pay for.

Cell phone use on planes, however, is, as far as I’m concerned, a single-edged sword that never need be unsheathed.

I will say, with passion, that I have very little desire to sit next to a stranger for a four-hour flight while listening to their telephone conversation. Nor do I have any desire to let my fellow passengers have privy to either my work or personal calls.

Consider the following experience and you will know exactly why I think cell phone use on airplanes is an awful idea. I was at the local health club, minding my own business and trying hard to make sure I end the year at my same fighting weight. A young man using the machine next to me decided to make a phone call, which happens to be against club rules.

I have never been introduced to this person, but I now know everything about him. He is recently divorced but still loves his ex-wife, and she still loves him. Since he chose to include me in his loud phone call, I wanted to ask him whey they got divorced if they both still loved each other. But I decided to just mind my own business, even though he chose not to mind his.

His conversation was just getting started. He recently moved into a new condo and could not be happier with the new condo and how he has decorated the new condo. Interestingly, the ex-wife helped him decorate — as did her new boyfriend. Either I am really old or there is just something I don’t know, because I found this to be very strange.

He has a new job and makes more money than ever. He wants to start dating again and met someone the night before who has possibilities. He has no children but thinks he will be a great dad one day. He plans to spend Christmas in his new condo admiring how well it is decorated. He’s especially proud of his draperies, which he, his ex-wife and her new boyfriend all picked out.

Goodness, gracious. I got all of this (and much more that I cannot print in this fine, upstanding publication) in 30-plus minutes. I could have changed machines, but I was there first.

At least with internet access you aren’t privy to your seatmate’s personal email unless you are really trying to snoop! If cell phone use is ever allowed, just imagine what you could learn about your fellow travelers on a four-hour flight where you can’t change seats. 

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