Snap out of it

Last Saturday I had an early morning flight from DC (Currently being renamed Domain of Charlatans) to Miami. My family and I had Disney World on the brain upon my arrival so making the 6:30 am flight was a relatively easy sacrifice.

Somehow in my 40’s I became the person I was supposed to become in my 30’s ( I’ve always been a late bloomer), so mornings are now my thing. As a general pre-dawn rule of thumb, I do not use my phone the first hour of the day. Besides the fact that I have way too many other things to do in the early hours, including cleaning leftover frying pans teeming with petrified eggs and bacon, I’m not coordinated enough to properly swipe the screen.

Teenagers are different though. They live in an “Unbrave” New World where waking up is easy as long as they have phone battery life and at least three digital devices within arm’s reach. Not that they do anything other than caress those devices the first hour of their day, but that’s not the point..In their minds, despite being entirely cloaked in a digital fog, they are on up and “connecting” to the world around them.

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Which brings me to my point. I had an already been up over an hour so I was sort of fidgeting with my phone. On the plane next to me were two teenage siblings, at least I assume they were teenagers because they were Snapchatting. Yes I know people of all ages Snapchat, including the Ghost of Christmas Past, John McCain, Obama and Napolean Bonaparte. But for anyone to “snap” this early in the morning, they had to be unable to legally purchase a drink much less an R-rated movie ticket

I am unsure what or why they were snapping, but they were snapping away, ten second endorphin boosting, pheromone emitting bursts of digital desire. From the looks of things, they were in snaptopia, almost begging American Airlines to find some mechanical defect with the plane so they had more time to snap. As a foil, I started reading and annotating the newspaper, just to give them a glimpse of what the dinosaurs still do.

They seemed to be uninterested but at least they didn’t point me out as the type of potential disturbance we are warned to report in the pre-flight announcements.

I think part of the problem is that kids are warned but not shown. Hinted at but not directed. Then again the problem could be the phones themselves. Just as nicotine includes addictive agents, the transmitters phones use must send waves of pheromones, more seductive than oysters to a woman, more powerful than the salivatory response when exposed to the smell and sight of freshly baked Krispy Kreme Donuts. In fact, clinical research corroborates this statement, though I’m fairly certain that even Steve Jobs with all of his tactile obsession never intended nor anticipated the compulsiveness his Iphone would generate.

Sure swiping is fun. Far better than smoking or biting one’s nails. But I’m assuming Jobs was far too learned or concerned about making the future a better replace than to intellectually paralyze most of the adolescent population.

I studied a little developmental psychology and from what I reckon the teenage years, despite the obsession with instant gratification are an irreplaceable time to build neural connections, develop academic passions, improve task awareness and establish lifelong study skills. All I know is that the the middle and high school students I teach in DC kind of like learning, but not when it interferes with their constitutional right to snapchat. Unfortunately the teachers for whom I substitute forget to leave a lesson plan comprehensive enough that would minimize the opportunity to swipe, tap and press, then rinse and repeat. While subbing third period last week, I asked one of my 8th grade students who was snapping, how many snapchats she had sent that day – her response, “not very much, like 25”.

TeensScreens

(Study compiled by Donald J. Trump,  Neurobiology Department Head at Trump University)

But back to the air. The flight took off a tad before 7 am and I confess to having a bit of swiping withdrawal. I actually could have used the plane’s wifi to get service on my phone but wanted to at least discipline myself to make the two hour flight without caressing my phone. The teenagers were plugged in, listening to music, playing games and looking at pictures. And then just when I was about to lose hope in all Generation Swipe, something magical happened. Snapchat girl pulled out a biology textbook and what seemed like a set of homework problems. For the next ten minutes, or maybe three, all societal pessimism was suspended as she diligently worked through several problems without any sighting of her phone. Brain activated. Neurons firing, paper and pen restored to the human order of operations.

Studies show that the average adult checks his/her phone over 150 times a day and uses it at family meals about 20 percent more than teenagers. This fact came from an article in Wired Magazine, not Donald Trump. I might be one of those adults, especially if I am trying to figure out what to buy at the grocery store. But once upon a time I could sit and read for two hours without any digital interruptions and write for even longer. I have proof of being able to survive in an analog world.

I’m still trying to figure out which of the literary conflicts best applies to the adolescent connection to their phones. I think its man v. Man. If the protagonist does really have free-will, it’s no longer man v. himself. So I use the upper case M for the antagonist because the phone is some type of superbeing. It has the 3 O’s which are usually associated with God, yes including omniscience. In fact, why build a $100 million public library when you can just give everyone free wifi?

I could go on and on about all the metaphysics of this new digital frontier. But that’s for science fiction writers to capture.   All I know is that there doesn’t seem to be any way for man to beat the machine or MAN. The machines are getting stronger, more ubiquitous and more manipulative. In contrast, man doesn’t even have time to muster a defense.

Within five seconds of touching ground in Miami, my neighbors loaded up the Iphone and started massaging their apps. I’m almost positive the girl Snapchatted and her brother went on Facebook. I asked the passing stewardess for leftover newspapers. For them, waiting two hours for full phone use probably felt like they had just conquered nature, some type of rugged endurance test akin to running a half triathalon in adverse weather conditions. Meanwhile “the dinosaur” tried to follow his five minute rule of not touching the phone to savor the touchdown experience.

My neighbors seemed happy. I was feeling literal and minor digital hunger pangs.

Although I was home, I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I obviously have no place in this digital paradise, I mean dystopia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life in limbo

I have spent a good portion of the last year up in the air.

And I am not just being metaphoric.

In fact, I spent most of yesterday afternoon in that state of limbo.

A slight professional flight of fancy coupled with a yearning to be in DC during the election has necessitated a weekly commute from DC to Miami. As the respective weather follows seasonal patterns, this trip provides for the best of both worlds, a first-hand look at our ever so dysfunctional political system during the weekdays and the fun and sun of the Truman show like bubble of Miami on weekends. Pundits then papayas.  “What’s the news”, then “que pasa?”

In order to get to and fro, I need to fly. I could write a Steven King length book about the quirky and neurotic world of aviation but that wouldn’t “fly” with my readers. As you know, it is a world like none other, aptly depicted in the George Clooney film “Up in the Air” and even more wryly in the David Sedaris essay I will post at the bottom of this blog. Nonetheless, since it is becoming such a big part of my psyche, here are some observations and tricks of the trade accumulated over the last half year of binge flying.

I encourage you to add these ten insights to your aviation survival kit.

(1) Tell Tall Tales If you need to make any modifications to your planned itinerary, be sure to over-exploit the fact, even if it’s not completely factual, that you have a wife and baby. I know I do. For instance, if you want to fly earlier in the day than your scheduled flight time, tell them you just found out your wife is pregnant again and you want to rush home to confirm it with her at the OB-GYN. The best time for that “appointment” is 11:30. Given the frequency with which I have told this story, my wife is now carrying quintuplets, all conceived at different times.

And if you need to push your flight later in the day, it’s because your son isn’t feeling well.

(2) Bring your own food, bring your own food – Despite the fact that airports offer more consumer benefits than a mega mall, in fact some savvy shoppers are now simply doing their holiday buying sprees at airports (In Dallas, some non-flyers actually spend weekend nights at the airport for food and fun), things are a little pricey. A shout out to my friend Radio who caught onto this around age 7 and likely empties half his fridge to travel with his large contingent. Nonetheless, bring food because if not, you will be out $20 for a bottle of water, a cookie and a turkey sandwich made with meat from a Jetsons’ episode.

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Should I buy two Valentines cards or one bottle of juice?

Below is my receipt from yesterday! Note the cost of O.J.

(3) Don’t follow the masses – airport gates are the worst example of conformity.

Q:  When is the best time to start getting comfortable in your seat while waiting at the gate?

A – When everyone else stands up.

This particularly happens with Southwest. As soon as two or more people stand up and start inching towards the ticket counter, everyone follows en masse. Mind you, this usually takes place before the incoming flight has even landed. I once asked a middle aged eager beaver why this was so common and his response was “ I guess they start forming a line to wait on another line before the actual line on the gangway.” My response – “Interesting”

(4) Don’t make time specific plans on the other end.

With American Airlines, always assume people are on Cuban time, unless you are in a rush. Then  American Airlines flights leave ten minutes early. But if they did usually follow ETD, I think the flight attendants will be bored.  Assuming you get to the airport with ample time to spare, just figure out ways to stay busy for another hour because your flight will invariably encounter some major problem like, the soap dispenser in the bathroom has been removed and the FAA has issued a airport wide man hunt to track the culprit down. Or we apologize but there was a granola bar undesirably found on the take-off runway and we are first  sending in Miami CSI to investigate before scrubbing the entire runway.

(5) Brown nose

Start simply, without ulterior motives, any and all flight attendants. Be inquisitive, ask them about their lives, their favorite cities, clouds, flight plans for the day, then after take off, move in for the kill. Refills without request, inside information about the flight, extra snacks and in some cases, a chance to move closer to the front. And if the flight gets delayed, don’t get on their cases… it’s bad karma, not to mention bad policy, eventually the flight does take off and you will need their help.

(6) Armrest/Elbow rest battles

Here’s the crux of the whole experience, the rising action of the flying novel, the part I have analyzed and kept large data records for years. This is where you find out if you have the testicular fortitude to literally “bump elbows” with the competition. Any flight over four minutes requires ample elbow space, but our neighbors often by virtue of girth, ignorance or poor observational skills, don’t like to share the space. Therefore you have to prepare a battle plan. Here are my four true and tried steps to reclaim your turf.

1 – The faith stage. Give it five minutes. Just pretend that the person next to you as still trying to figure out that you also have two elbows. With some passengers, this could stretch to ten minutes. But hold out hope that they will eventually come around.

2 – If the faith stage doesn’t work, try the friend stage. Figure you can get them to lessen their elbow lock by befriending them. Simple pleasantries and even a compliment or two should get them to share the space.

3- Subtle hint stage. This happens after about twenty minutes. At this point, you are feeling the pinch. I usually start with a reference to food. Me – “Hey do you know if they are serving food on this flight?” Elbow hog – Yea I sure hope so”. Me – “Well if they do, I could go for some pasta, maybe some elbow, yea elbow macaroni. At his point you also give their protruding elbow a slight nudge. There are good variations on this theme. “Hey do you like watching hockey/” Passenger – Yea great sport. Very physical. “ Me – Agreed, especially when they give them a good elbow, you know really slam them into the boards with their elbows.

4- The elbow war. Just nudge their elbows, even a good aerial hit to get them to cede their space. This, while the last line of defense, can also be the most satisfying. Naturally this is a little trickier if your opponent is asleep, but don’t let their level of comfort deter you.

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(7) Study your neighbors:  

In writing this, I’ve come up with a thought. Airlines should force people to upload their pictures before claiming a seat. Either that or biographical data. Then we can pick a seat based on a number of variables including the potential for surrounding annoyances. Though I base my preferences on what the people carry on. If they bring next to nothing, lets assume they are a little bit boring and will likely have some ADD and therefore very fidgety. If they bring books, a laptop or a notepad, that’s your winner. They will keep to themselves, not to mention , likely respect the elbow rest rules.

(8) Don’t get all worked up before your flight – Somehow these pilots really know what they’re doing. I guess all that flight simulator practice pays off. Personally, as glorious as defying Newtonian Physics  and winning the man versus nature battle is, I can’t think of a job I would be less suited for. Maybe a professional organizer. Although I have overcome my fear of flying, I still get a little queasy for a minute or so before the flight and start reciting biblical verses every time we hit some turbulence. But all this high anxiety isn’t worth it. Have faith…. The skies really are friendly..

(9) If at first you don’t succeed, start writing in your journal:

Since you must share an elbow rest, not to mention, play accidental games of footsie, you might as well try to get to know the passengers next to you. Besides, and I’m sorry to be so honest, if you are anything like me, you will probably fart a lot during the flight (Yes I’m that guy). In my case, it must be a combination of nerves and bananas. But if you are a bit of a threat to the ambient air quality, at least buy yourself some leeway by befriending your neighbors. This could start with something simple like “Where are you flying to?” or “By any chance are you allergic to pretzels because I’m not?”. The point is, there will be times when you want to pass what feels like time suspended in air more quickly so fraternizing can speed up the process.

But if they are not too responsive, then grab a little more of the elbow rest and start writing in your journal. You could even write a little character sketch about them.

(10) Don’t check your phone until you reach the gate:

This is a bit of superstition but there were times that people actually waited until they got home, walked the dogs and thrown out the two week old spaghetti  left on the kitchen counter before they could check in with loved ones. Or at least there was the surprise of exiting security and seeing a loved one waiting for you, or in the case of some Latin families, twenty family members including the dog, all waiting with welcome home posters.

But my reasoning is a little different. Use whatever analogy jumps to mind, but I say savor the afterglow. Man you just traversed five states in 140 minutes. You even wrote two good poems and an apology letter to your former boss. Feel the ground, thank the pilots, fart once or twice more just to leave your final imprint. Then once you get to the gate, you can check your FB. Really just take note of your new surroundings first. After all, if you are flying American, your DC bound flight  may have just landed in the middle of Honduras.

P.S.: For another perspective on flying, I strongly suggest reading this essay –

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/09/standing-by