Discovering the true meaning of airplane mode

It was awfully quiet — rarely a good sign around children.

It was awfully quiet — rarely a good sign around children.

En route to visit family in California, I was enjoying a favourite airline, great visibility, and a couple of free days offering respite from holiday busy-ness. But two small children and a baby had boarded the flight, too.

There was no movie today. A little turbulence also meant no food and no drinks. As the aircraft climbed, suddenly all was quiet.

Had I missed an announcement?  Was something wrong?

My eyes abandoned their wingtip view of Mount Ranier, then froze at what I saw, not just in the kid’s seats, but in the entire cabin.

The woman across the aisle from me was working a puzzle on her iPad.

The beauty next to me was engrossed in her Kindle.

The two children were ‘gaming’ on some contraption, and as far as I could see, every passenger had disappeared head-down, and was busily tapping, scrolling, pinching and swiping.

Blackberries, tablets, and iPhones were everywhere — and not a word was spoken.

Is that the meaning of “airplane mode?”

Lives touching, but with no connection?

Nothing to cherish, nothing to take away?

Nothing touching us but impersonal terabytes?

Evidencing guilt, I pulled out my computer and began to work. But ancient encounters beckoned to me — times I would have missed if then was like now.

Fresh conversations I would have lost if armrest squabbles and “excuse me” were our only chatter.

I recall a CEO who hoped to save his business. A volunteer to a Russian orphanage.

A conversation between a Hindu and a Christian.

All that richness — free!

What of the Pan Am flight decades ago when children folded paper boxes, fought over Rubik’s cube, and tangled their string tricks.  Self-preservation tells me not to list all the occupiers Mother brought along!

I recently heard a child query, “Can I play on your phone? Can I watch a movie? Or play on the computer?”

There followed no comment on his grammar — only a hand-over of the latest device. What do those blinkin’ lights offer us, anyway? Time and connection, or do they rob us of the same?

Perhaps we’re in an unreal warp of some sort! Is is true students are marked ‘present’ while texting at the back of the classroom?

We love electronics! But are they here to rule us or serve us? What will the baby that boarded the plane value?

Our default mode may be at fault if we have to choose technology over living.

Perhaps people are just electronic pets to be shut off at the first annoyance!

A few days after the bygone flight, CNN announced that the man’s company had gone broke. Business gone, but connection solid.

And I would have been poorer had I missed the verbal tour of Russia, or the conversation with Mr. Chinta. Are we living, alive, on fire?

Or free-falling into the limits of a plug?

I need a moment or two to hone my next admission.

So, in keeping with the theme, please send no e-mail this week to

Rita Corbett is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Advisor.