Now that Obamacare is working perfectly and we have no further concerns about the NSA overstepping its bounds in eavesdropping on the world, it is time to focus on the next global crisis: cellphones on airplanes.
Starting about three weeks after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone and immediately summoned his sidekick, Watson, with those classic words: “Mr. Watson, come here; I want to see you,” on March 10, 1876, the most iconic phrase in the English language has become, “Can you hear me now?” From ham radio operators to kids with toy walkie talkies to CB radio enthusiasts to (gasp!) cellphone users, we have become a nation obsessed with talking to each other, even when we have nothing worthwhile to talk about.
In fact, CB radio was once defined as that medium which allowed millions of people with nothing to say a forum in which to say it.
Baby’s first words, which once were “Goo-goo” and “Ma-ma” and “Da-da” have become: “What do you mean I can’t have a cellphone; every other kid in the hospital nursery has one!”
Cell phones no longer are just instruments for communication. They are cameras, text messaging devices, email portals, calculators, mapping and navigation tools, breaking news sources, portable video game consoles, stop watches, alarm clocks, and probably 10 more things that you can add to the list and another 15 that will be developed by the end of the month.
Their demanding ringtones can be heard in movie theaters, churches, concert venues, classrooms, conference rooms, libraries, meeting halls, and anywhere else where people are trying to concentrate on the business at hand.
The least-used feature on the average cellphone is the tiny switch that mutes the ringtone and substitutes a vibrating alert.
And I am not pleading innocent to any of these violations.
My “ringtone” does not ring at all. It sounds a little like a schoolyard argument between R-2D2 and C3-PO.
It actually has gotten me out of a couple of tight spots, because it sounds so little like a ringtone that I can leave the room before most people have figured out what the sound is and where it is coming from.
My incoming text message alert, on the other hand, sounds like a Pentagon warning to evacuate Washington to escape an impending invasion of 1960s-era peaceniks in VW minivans.
But we were going to talk about cellphones on airplanes, weren’t we? Years of research has now established that a $199 cellphone cannot cause the crash of a $199 million airliner. This is good news for cellphone junkies who have ignored commands to turn off their devices, even while placidly complying with orders to return their tray tables to their full upright and locked positions.
No longer will they be required to hide their phones in an empty coffee cup or a discarded peanut bag while continuing to ask a friend, “Can you hear me now?” The head of the FAA said on TV the other day he thinks that chattering on a cellphone on an airplane is rude, boorish, and perhaps even politically incorrect. But it is not a menace to navigation, he said, and the FAA has no business regulating in-flight manners.
A valid point.
If he ever changes his mind, I hope the FAA will begin not with use of cellphones, but with passengers who, upon taking their seats, immediately recline them as far as they will go, a distance regulated either by (a) the design of the reclining mechanism or (b) the leg strength of the passenger behind who resists having the seat back jammed against his kneecaps for the entire flight.
The airline industry has done just about everything in its power to make flying an unpleasant experience, with the exception of things it can charge extra for.
If the industry ever returns to the “friendly skies” concept, the first thing it should do is disable the seat reclining mechanisms.
Given that creature comfort, I could endure almost anything else, including cellphones.
But say, here’s an idea: When seated behind a reclining passenger, have a friend text you about every 10 minutes with one of those end-of-the-world ringtone alerts.
If you can’t make the person in front of you sit up in his seat, you can at least keep him awake.
Don’t forget to look around in feigned consternation each time your phone goes off, trying to spot the offending passenger, heh-heh.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He flies only when unavoidable, and has rediscovered the joys of train travel. Sure, it’s slower, but you arrive rested and happy, with your baggage in hand and a smile on your face.)