I used to have a job that required I travel a lot. It was back in 'the 90s' when computers were either ungainly or impractical to take with you traveling and cellphone minutes were precious and connections precarious. Weekly, I would fly to some hub (Chicago or Detroit) sit for a connection (or miss a connection and sit a long time) and do what people did then in airport waiting areas. Often that meant striking up a conversation with whatever road warrior or weary traveler happened to be in the vicinity. Once boarded on the plane, there was the immediate intimacy of being partnered in a small seating area with a total stranger. Often these were people you had shared eye rolls with when the airline had announced a delay, or they had helped heft your bag into the overhead compartment.
What followed was often a traveler's dance of deciding if conversation was welcome or not. If it was, what followed were usually interesting tales of travels made, airport mishaps and near misses, details of the visits to come at the next destination, business meeting comparisons, and often family histories or insights that seemed so much more confessional or intimate than the situation warranted. The conversations were so prolific and interesting, that I often thought about compiling a book of them - 'Short Stories from Economy Class'.
It has been years now since I was a frequent flyer. I just flew to Wisconsin and back, and realized how times had changed. Earphones. Everywhere. No eye contact, no traveler's camaraderie, road warriors connected only by being wired to the same docking and power stations. Even in the airport bars, the tablets were out, the phones connected and conversations were being held with people around the world, but not at the next bar stool! And the same happened on the planes. The small tablets and 'airplane mode' phones insure close to non-stop connection with anyone other than those next to you.
I am no Luddite. I love technology (see here I am talking to you on the computer!!) but there does seem like a loss here. Never will I get advice on a good restaurant, from the person going home to where I will be a visitor. I once heard trucker stories from a guy who drove trucks across country to deliver them and then flew home - who knew people had that job. That conversation will not happen again. Sure there were many times I hoped beyond hope that the person next to me would NOT talk because I wanted nothing but peace and quiet, but that was easy to signal by closing my eyes, or cracking a book - any experienced traveler knew that meant "do not disturb!"
It is no surprise - all this connectedness and disconnection at the same time, but I have been gone from airports long enough for it to be really noticeable to me. It changed an experience I have always thoroughly enjoyed into a much more mundane one. I hope the guy next to me enjoyed his movie, and the guy across the aisle got all his emails sorted. It sure would have been interesting to know what books all those kindles were tuned to. Guess I will just have to meet them all through Facebook or somewhere else on line.
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