April 22, 2006 psipsina

You – yes, you!  Think for just one second, just a single second, please.  Is there any point to that call you’re about to make?

I have a little secret to share:  I hate travelling.

Let me be clear.  I love seeing new places,  and I love going back to familiar haunts.  This weekend I am in Annapolis for an alumni event, and I have been looking forward to it for months.  Regular readers of this blog know just how badly spring in Boston sucks, and the only antidote is to spend some time in Maryland, where spring begins in March, as spring is supposed to do.  Furthermore, St. John’s is my intellectual and spiritual home; I always feel refreshed after paying a visit.  The fact that it is raining dampens my enthusiasm not a whit.  Well, OK, maybe just the tiniest fraction of a whit.  At least the temperature here is above 50 degrees, as it should be in April.

So I like being places.  It’s the activity of travelling I hate, the grit and hassle of going from point A to point B.  And the means of travel I hate the most is flying.

I am not afraid to fly; I do it three or four times a year.  But the typical airline flight is one unending series of hassles, from the time you leave the comfort of your own home until you reach your destination.  I’ve never been to a city where getting the airport is easy, whether you take a cab, get a ride, drive yourself, or take public transit, there is always a problem of distance, parking, juggling baggage, something.

Then you get to the airport.  To get through security, you have to take off your hat, shoes, belt, jewelry, jacket – the TSA even made one woman at Logan take off her sweater, which I think must have been some sort of gratuitous power trip on the TSA staffer’s part.  Then you have to take your laptop out of the bag, empty your pockets, and wait to be waved through the metal detector.  Then on the other side there’s always some TSA employee rushing you to complete the reverse operation in approximately 11 seconds so you will be out of the way.  I injured my right thumb recently, which sounds trivial but is a great impediment.  (If you don’t believe me, tape the thumb on your dominant hand to your palm and see how long you last.)  I can’t even put on my shoes in 11 seconds, much less everything else.

Undress-unpack-dress-pack.  These are activities you used to engage in at your destination, in the privacy of home or hotel room, and now you do it in the airport in front of strangers before you even leave the ground.

Then you get to sit in the gate area where there are people on their cell phones.  Hi, it’s me.  I’m at the airport.  I’ll call you when I arrive.

I have a friend who often chides me for not carrying my phone regularly, because she can’t call me.  But why?  I once said.  The only reason you ever call is to tell me when you’re running late.  What did we do before cell phones?  We waited for people, and if they didn’t appear at the appointed time, we concluded that they were running late.  A curmudgeon might even go so far as to say that not arriving at the appointed time is the very definition of running late.  Hence, if you’re not there on time, I know you’re late.

OK, I can grant the usefulness of knowing exactly how late someone is going to be:  are you ten minutes behind, or an hour?  But as cell phones have become more popular, an alarming number of public conversations have become completely content-free.  Nowhere is this phenomenon more pervasive – or irritating – than at the airport.

On the bus:  I just called to say I’m on my way to the airport.  I’ll call you when I get in.  (What this means:  Nothing.)
At the gate:  I’m at the airport waiting for my flight to be called.  I’ll call you when I get in.  (What this means:  Nothing.)
On the plane, before they close the boarding door:  I wanted to let you know I’m on the plane.  I’ll call you when I get in.  (What this means:  Nothing.)
On the plane, after landing:  We just landed.  I’ll be there in about 10 minutes.  (What this means:  Nothing.)
At the baggage claim:  I’m at the baggage claim.  I’ll be there in 5 minutes.  (What this means:  Nothing.)
On the rental car shuttle:  I’m on the rental car shuttle.  I’ll see you soon.  (What this means:  Nothing.)

These so called-conversations (yammerings would be a more accurate term) do not even have the virtue of communicating to the recipient something useful.  These people were not late.  Their flights weren’t cancelled.  Everything was just fine.  By the time I got on the rental car shuttle, I was ready to scream:  If you have nothing to say, could you please shut the f*@#$!! up?

When I was a kid, the way you knew that everything was just fine was that No One Called.  If my oldest brother, who lived in Tuscon, had called from the Tuscon airport on his way home, we would’ve assumed, quite rightly, that something was wrong.  That’s because it was expensive and a bit difficult to make a call for the airport (find a pay phone, find a big pile of change, or call collect, which cost, like, a million dollars per second, judging by my dad’s reaction to the rare collect call), so if you were going to do it, by God it better be for a good reason.

Now that it’s cheap and easy to call from anywhere, people do.  Even if they have nothing to say.  I think technology holds great promise to improve our lives, but I don’t see how this is an improvement.

I do have a cell phone, and I appreciate its usefulness.  It’s a cheap way to make long distance calls.  It’s handy in emergencies.  It’s a good tool for arranging a meeting between several people without tying them to their landlines.  But were our lives less rich before we could call our loved ones the second the aircraft door opened to tell them our plane landed on time?  Or did our loved ones posses the innate intelligence to conclude that, if they didn’t hear from us, nothing was wrong?

I had thought about taking the hotel shuttle from the airport to my destination, but in the end I was glad for the privacy of the rental car.  In the shuttle, I’m sure some dude was yammering, I’m on the hotel shuttle.  I’ll see you soon.  In the car it was just me – my cell phone was conveniently stowed in the trunk.


Entry Filed under: airport, cell phone, phone, technology, travel, yammering

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