Phone companies had to improve the cell towers around the Atlanta airport to handle the surge of 300 phones coming online at once whenever a plane landed. If you have been in a plane, you know the surge. The moment the wheels meet tarmac again, every phone leaves Airplane Mode and rejoins the world. Thousands of notifications about the news or texts you might have gotten or calls you may have missed all rush to your screen.
It’s so much, oftentimes you can feel your phone heat up with the excitement.
No one needs these notifications, really. Maybe you would want that text about how your connecting flight is leaving in seven minutes. Or maybe you want to text someone to pick you up.
Hey, how close is the Uber line?
There used to be an information desk for this. Now there is the jarring of life that is a phone leaving airplane mode.
I recently had a late flight out of Denver where I was seated among a group of business folk on their way home from some manner of a conference or another. Right before we left the gate the flight attendant let everyone know the wifi on the plane wasn’t working.
Sorry about that.
In every direction, my seatmates were outraged.
As we taxied, they tethered their laptops to their phones and hotspotted any download they could get their hands on. Email, spreadsheets, presentations! Hurry!
We sat at the foot of the runway waiting for them to put their laptops away. The flight crew was less than pleased.
The next four hours I attempted to nap in the glow of the light of several 17-inch Lenovo screens. The shrimp of a woman next to me took all the space she could with her elbows as she managed the giant keyboard on her tray table.
She even asked me if I would mind not taking my complimentary beverage. Too much risk of spilling it on her machine.
I ordered a double whiskey ginger and drank it very slowly as the plane bounced in the dark.
I had intentionally brought little more than headphones and whatever music I happened to have on my phone. My intention was to fly from Denver to Florida at night and let whatever happen, happen.
And what happened? The sales crew.
Airplanes used to be the only place where you might find someone reading. Or napping or filling out their hundredth Sudoku puzzle. Our devices were worthless without the connection, but we were not worthless without a device. Disembarking planes I always felt the tiredness that comes with dehydration, but I still felt rested — as though not mindlessly staring at a screen for four hours was somehow a good thing.
There is nothing new to this. Some of the most productive people of our generation swear by the digital isolation the open skies provide.
I’m writing this in the pocket that exists at the end of the year. The professional no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year’s. Where time exists but there is no demand of what you are supposed to do with this time. I could very easily fill it with scrolling the news or games or finding something new to be mad about on Twitter.
Instead, I’m trying to get more use out of my Airplane Mode. Tapping the little plane in the menu, and letting everything get silent. Less than silent: nonfunctioning.
I was inspired by this video.
When I start writing I stick as much as I can in airplane mode. Notifications off. Silence all the dings and rattles and notifications from the dozens of apps. Few windows. No buzzing. Keep the email thing closed.
I have only been at this a few weeks and the process has been far from perfect. When facing a project or a block of copy I don’t really care to work on, my mind immediately searches for something else to do. Slowly, I am training myself to reach for a pencil to sketch out something on a pad or write a horrendously stupid poem — anything to keep from jumping out of airplane mode.
Embrace the boredom. It’s weird.
It gets easier with time.
Writing would be great if it weren’t the only thing I knew how to do.
I publish as much as I can, you’ll just have to wait for the rest.