Airplane Mode

3 min read

There is a distinctive feeling that comes with travelling, a blend of discomfort and excitement about leaving what is known and venturing into what is not. In airplanes, we have time to think, or to truly enjoy a book or an album, purely because there is nothing else to do. Without connection to the internet, there is nothing new to discover, only new things to appreciate in what we already have.

Even choosing what to bring while travelling can feel like a daunting challenge. What if we need three pairs of workout pants, who knows if we will end up spontaneously doing some fitness classes while away. In moments when we want something but don’t have it, such as the case of discovering a pool without a suit, we feel the pain of not being able to retrieve an item from our vast horde or ordering something at the press of a button for next-day delivery.

In many ways we are spoiled by the internet age; we don’t have to leave our preferences of digital collections behind when we journey to a far-off land, rather we expect that our phone provider will allow us to roam wherever we please. Moments of disconnection cause distress; we can’t load our train ticket, get into our hotel, or find our way around uncertain streets. In the event that we get lost, we would be abandoned by the wider world.

This juxtaposes the purpose of the vacation in the first place – to get away from the dings and chimes of our normal lives and to feel as if we are a part of something new. It can also create an opportunity to reflect about how much our identity is truly tied to our presence and physical surroundings, and how much is based on an email address up in the cloud. One version knows no boundaries or borders, the other is irrevocably tied to the here and now. The temptation to continue to manage the part of our identity back home – work emails, library holds, and credit card bills – highlights how the world does truly expect us to be everywhere all at once. Our aversion to disconnect is less of an indication of addiction and more a repulsion to splintering ourselves and dropping omnipresent obligations.

Many applications and processes assume internet connectivity is a given. Our devices come with far less storage than they could because on-device capability isn’t seen as a priority. Why wouldn’t you want the benefits of syncing (which companies hope you will always happily pay more for)? Normally touted as a frictionless experience, when internet connectivity isn’t available we feel every slight friction that could be (and should be) avoided.

As I write this, on a train in the middle of a country I have never been to before, I see a spinning loading circle following by a green check mark after every 3 second pause in my typing. It’s as if it wants me to know that everything is okay. I am in sync with the wider world, during my time to get away.