Glory Be To The Window Seat: A Bizarre 'Spiritual' Defense Of The FAA's Airplane Gadget Ban

from the getting-a-bit-overzealous dept

By now, you’ve probably heard the news that the FAA is reconsidering its policies on using electronic devices on airplanes. In truth this is primarily a technical issue, coupled with an administrative question of who will pay to actually test devices, but that hasn’t stopped some people from expressing their support or opposition on a variety grounds. Peter Bright at Ars Technica is one of those people, offering a defense of the existing gadget ban that I honestly thought had to be a joke—but the punchline never came. The crux of Bright’s vague argument is two-fold: that there is still a valid safety concern even if the devices cause no interference, and that we should support the ban for “spiritual” reasons.

There is still a small safety argument that resonates. … If something goes wrong—which is admittedly rare, but not unheard of—it is probably to the advantage of all involved that they’re paying at least some attention to what is going on around them. As safety measures go, they don’t get much cheaper or more inoffensive.

But the more important reason to preserve the current rules is a spiritual one. There is something to be said for not being transfixed by an electronic gizmo. These devices have encroached on almost every aspect of modern life. Even in places that should be sacrosanct—at the cinema or theater, for example—sporadic buzzing, bleeping, and illumination courtesy of pocket-sized gizmos is abundant. I freely admit, I’m no angel here. Many’s the time that I’ve interrupted a romantic meal at Buffalo Wild Wings to investigate a surprising Buzztime answer.

Those brief stints in which we must turn off our machines—the few minutes between push back from the gate and the extinguishing of the seatbelt sign, and the corresponding blackout at landing time—are something almost unique in modern life. Those rare moments in which our entertainment must come from within, not without. This is a perfect time to reflect on the journey ahead or the trip just taken. An all-too infrequent opportunity to quietly contemplate the world we live in and our place in the universe. A brief calm juncture in our otherwise hectic lives.

I’m not sure I’m convinced that the 0.5 seconds it takes to drop a Kindle and start screaming is going to cost anyone their life in a plane crash, but at least Bright admits that’s the “small” argument. Unfortunately the only thing that’s “big” about his other argument is the ego it must have taken to make it. I too think there’s “something to be said” for switching off your gadgets once in awhile, but I’m not about to tell anyone it’s necessary for their spiritual health, and I fear declaring cinemas to be “sacrosanct” is a bit much.

But even if you subscribe to this school of thought in full—and are the type of person who isn’t satisfied with turning off your own gadgets, instead needing to tell other people to turn theirs off too—what does any of this have to do with airplanes? Every time a new technological tool is adopted into a new part of the average person’s routine, someone is out there complaining that it “encroaches” on our lives, and those people have yet to accomplish anything except making themselves look increasingly foolish as time goes on. Many of us still know at least one holdout who bizarrely refuses to even own a cellphone (but will gladly borrow them from others when the need arises), and regardless of whatever “spiritual” benefits they think they are reaping, it generally hasn’t delivered them to nirvana. Just because airplanes happen, randomly, to be one of the places that people are forced to tear themselves away from their gadgets, it doesn’t make them temples of the Luddite religion. Philosophical questions didn’t enter into the inception of the FAA’s ban, and they shouldn’t enter into the debate about its future.

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Comments on “Glory Be To The Window Seat: A Bizarre 'Spiritual' Defense Of The FAA's Airplane Gadget Ban”

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Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You just don’t get it. The government needs to enforce self control or else you’ll soon have so much control of your life that you will no longer have self control.

Also, I think the cinema is sacrosanct and all electronic devices should be turned off while watching the movie so that “our entertainment must come from within, not without.” On the plane you still have airline provided magazines, discussion with your randomly assigned seat neighbors, or — heaven forbid — a book of your own choosing. No, all planes should feature solitary confinement zones where you are forced to come to grips with your self.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think that on average, most people don’t fly very often. What benefit would there even be in taking this “break” once every few years? That’s something the Ars writer doesn’t seem to take into account. Or that that break is hardly the time or place of our choosing to do deep thinking. I, for example, would probably use it to get impatient at the airplane, the people in the airplane and whatever other unpleasantness I’m motivating myself to get away from quickly.

Jay Meany (user link) says:

Spiritual Reasoning

Mr Bright,

I have some spiritual reasons I would like my old way of air travel back. (pre-my-iPhone-might-be-a-danger-to-national-security theatrics)

I would like for the fear mongering justification of the TSA absurdity removed from my boarding process.

I would like the predatorial upcharges and gotcha fees and general disdain toward the customer, removed.

Lastly, I would like to be able to listed to the beautiful music I have chosen to mitigate the cattle car / sheep sheering experience those of us commoners now know as air travel. It’s a small thing and we all know if airplanes are hardened for lighting strikes, a few phones operating on a consumer wave length pose no issue.


E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Having just been on a pair of flights over the last two days, I like my gadgets. While I didn’t use a smart phone of tablet computer or anything of that nature, I was listening to my MP3 player and reading. Since I was reading a paper book, I didn’t have to worry about closing it up and stowing it away during the take off and landing portions of my flight. However, having to turn off my MP3 which has no wireless capabilities whatsoever was really really annoying. I rather enjoyed listening to music rather than the roar of the plane in flight or the noise of people talking in the rows and seats around me.

Additionally, had I been using an ereader of some sort to read rather than paper, I would have gone completely mad during those beginning and ending sortions of the flights. The crappy mags in the seat pockets in front of me would have only been able to go so far.

Anonymous Coward says:

Their point really is that, unless we can prove 100% that the electronics will never interfere, isn’t it perhaps just better that we take a few minutes and “enjoy the ride” and disconnect from our always on lifestyles?

They are trying to put it nicely. Clearly Mike, you have your mind made up and you just don’t care. Don’t want to miss a love note from Marcus?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hyperbole aside, you really have to consider it. If there is ANY interference, you put upwards to 500 people at risk on the flight. If you don’t go outside, you protect maybe one person (assuming you don’t fear a home invasion).

Considering that drugs have been pulled off the shelf for very few adverse outcomes, I don’t see banning electronics for a short period on a flight to be such a hardship. It’s no worse than asking people to turn off their f—-ng phones in a movie theater.

Cowardly Anonymous says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

1) “adverse outcomes”

I do not think that word means what you think it means.
Adverse – preventing success, harmful, hurtful.

2) Those drugs get pulled only after significant evidence is found of the side effects, usually because some people got together and made a fuss about it.

3) The planes have been made (and they have to) to withstand sources of identical types of interference at much greater magnitudes, because lighting isn’t beholden to human regulations. Thunderstorms are crazy messes of electrostatic forces, and planes are subjected to those from time to time.

4) Asking and requiring are two very different things. Please refrain from conflating the two in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

1) adverse outcomes, like not curing the disease, and worse, giving the user heart failure or some other issue. Yes, adverse outcomes.

2) How many airplanes would have to crash (killing hundreds at a time) before you would consider it “proven”? Are you willing to be on the test flights?

3) Electrostatic forces are only one item. When you deal with equipment that broadcasts any signal (and all electronics do emit at least some spectral noise) you have to worry about harmonics within the aircraft’s electronic systems, at interference that might change the operation of certain electronics, or at things that might effect ever so slightly the readings being used to fly the plan. The violent hit by lightning really isn’t in the same category.

4) v. asked, ask?ing, asks
1. To put a question to: When we realized that we didn’t know the answer, we asked the teacher.
2. To seek an answer to: ask a question.
3. To seek information about: asked directions.
a. To make a request of: asked me for a loan.
b. To make a request for. Often used with an infinitive or clause: ask a favor of a friend; asked to go along on the trip; asked that he be allowed to stay out late.
5. To require or call for as a price or condition: asked ten dollars for the book.
6. To expect or demand: ask too much of a child.
7. To invite: asked them to dinner.
8. Archaic To publish, as marriage banns.

You can figure the rest out yourself, I hope.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I’m pretty certain modern tech can make most portable devices incapable of harming a plane – if nothing, a Faraday cage inside would help. The authorities and airplanes really just can’t be bothered, especially when we are talking about low-power or receive-only electronics. Why do I have to turn off my GPS receiver, but not a digital watch? Why switch off a Kindle but not a pacemaker? It’s all about ‘convenience’, not actual science.

DCX2 says:

Ars has been going down hill...

I remember when I would be reading the in-depth gory details about the number of pipeline stages the new Pentium 4 processor would have and how it would need a beefy branch predictor in order to keep its multiple execution units fed.

Now they have folks writing opinion pieces that say “stop using technology”.

My, how times have changed.

Pjerky (profile) says:

Romantic huh?

If this guy is serious in the article’s entirety then the first thing I want to point out is that the phrase “romantic evening” and “Buffalo Wild Wings” do not belong in the same sentence (or paragraph for that matter). If he considers that a romantic place to take a date then I can assure you that we are dealing with a bible belt white trash bible thumper. And thus his opinion can be immediately ruled ignorant and invalid on those grounds alone.

The next thing I want to point out is that religious arguments have no place in government affairs. You can practice whatever religion you want, but our very constitution speaks to the separation of church and state and I do not appreciate all the nutjobs out there that keep trying to cram their religious injunctions down our throats. Especially when they are not even legally allowed to.

Don’t tell me what to practice and I won’t tell you what to practice (which would inevitably involve telling you where to stick it).

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Romantic huh?

If this guy is serious in the article’s entirety then the first thing I want to point out is that the phrase “romantic evening” and “Buffalo Wild Wings” do not belong in the same sentence (or paragraph for that matter).

What if your significant other is into sports, trivia, or hot-wings?

I am sorry, I might fit into this category (white bible thumper, though if you ask those who know me if these three words would fit for me, they’d tell you “hell no” for at least two of them,) but I did go to BWW once with someone who I was interested in, and we had lots of fun playing trivia and talking. Sure, you probably don’t want to take someone there all the time, but don’t knock BWW as a place to bring your date at least once, if she is into that kinda stuff. I’ve also brought dates bowling too.

I certainly agree that this guy is a religious nutjob, but be careful where you draw the lines — sometimes bringing a date to BWW isn’t a sign of a nutjob (or maybe it is.)

Anonymous Coward says:

“…the 0.5 seconds it takes to drop a Kindle and start screaming is going to cost anyone their life in a plane crash”

When I read it I thought he meant if the plane drops 10 feet, but it is flying at 30,000 feet it will make little difference.
On the other hand, if the plane is 8 feet off the ground and we drop 10 feet it means that we just smashed the landing gear.

“…don’t fly into the ground. When you’re up at flight level 380, this is pretty easy. The ground is an awfully long way down. But at take-off and landing, it could be mere feet away”

Otherwise it seems a joke.

Joe says:

reminds me of the Angelus back in Ireland. that’s a one minute long recording of bells that’s played at noon and 6pm (possibly at 6am, but god knows I’ll never check that out). It’s supposed to be a common pause where you put down your work, your cell phone etc and say a short prayer.

I actually quite liked it, but I can’t see the logic of having a group pause on a flight. If he wants to rail against something maybe it should be the days when you didn’t take electronics with you when you go to the bathroom.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Many’s the time that I’ve interrupted a romantic meal at Buffalo Wild Wings” and I cant take anything else he says seriously.

But really, yes turn off your device once in awhile. Because its good for you not because you fucking have to because you are on a plane. Does he have no self control and needs the FAA to stop him from using his device or he will never have 5 minutes of device less quiet? “This is an important spiritual moment for me because I could never do this at home with no stewardess to yell at me.”

Ryan Diederich says:

My thoughts

I never turned off my devices on a plane. If wifi, cell phone reception, or the likes can knock a plane out of the sky, we are in big trouble.

Considering that a plane flies over cell phone towers, plowing through hundreds of frequencies of television, radio, and cell phone transmissions, I doubt that a blackberry is going to interfere.

If it did, they ought to fix the interference with shielding or some other mechanism. I hate rules without reason.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

They can’t pure fire suppression systems on the plane because it would weight to much for what it provides, yet they can put “entertainment” systems that weigh much more on them.

The airlines are in no hurry to change the rules, how else would they be able to make more money by selling you something to take your mind off the fact your stuffed in a giant metal tube like cattle?

Spending money to upgrade systems to avoid problems with interference is a fools game. Why make things safer, we we can continue as we always have and save money? I think the better question to be asking ourselves is simple – with all of the fear of terrorism why haven’t they hardened the systems?
There was an example given in other articles on the topic on how 1 guys cellphone blacked out communications for an entire plane… seems easier to get a cellphone past security than C4…
Yet we buy new scanners, grope more people, invaded peoples lives checking them against lists… when you can screw a plane with a cellphone maybe they are trying to fix the wrong things?
Mind you I don’t believe in security theater, but this situation seems like something that should have been corrected long before making senior citizens pull out their *ostomy bags to be checked for dangerous things.

jsf (profile) says:

You Got Trolled

Being a 12+ year reader of and participant in the ArsTechnica forums, I know who Peter B. is, and you have basically been trolled. Kind of.

In the ArsTechnica forums Peter is known for taking contrary, and often unpopular, points of view and pushing them to the extreme. Often he will take things to an extreme. While this can sometimes be thought provoking, it mostly just draws people out to comment on how his point of view is wrong.

Now usually his baiting is kept in the forums, but occasionally makes its way into an article. Which is usually good for generating comments and traffic when picked up by other sites.

In the end though it is mostly Peter pushing buttons and seeing how people will react, for the LOLs. And with this one boy have people reacted.

Dismembered3po (profile) says:

Missing an important point

I think many of the people involved in this argument are missing an important point:

Plane flying 150mph
Something happens
Plane no longer moving at 150mph
Kindle = missile

I think this is a significant safety concern aside from any electronic interference, etc.

Given that the chances of something untoward causing a fairly significant, if not catastrophic, deceleration are significantly increased during takeoff and landing, it seems to be prudent to stow lose items safely during these times. It doesn’t take much of a velocity change to rip something from your hand.

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