March 28th. Frankfurt airport.
Just boarded a plane to Madrid. I enter among the first passengers and take my seat, 12D. 12D sucks. On a fully booked flight it means that in a moment I will have to get up again to let in the passengers booked for seats 12E and 12F.
Here they are. An elderly Spanish couple, both in their 70s. I get up and they get in. Once they are seated, I take my seat again and can finally relax. I take out my phone and see a message from Anna, my friend from Kiev. The couple next to me chats so loudly that I can’t focus even on writing a simple message. Luckily, I’m prepared. From my backpack I take out my new love – a pair of Bose headphones. I put them on. They nicely cover my ears so that they do the job of sound isolation. Everything becomes a little bit more quiet.
The best comes however with the active noise cancellation functionality. I slide the “on” button on the right headphone – and with a click any sound trace of the Spanish couple is as good as gone. For maximum effect I fill the deafening silence with the sound of “Summer” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Satisfied, I look at the screen of my phone again and go back to my Messenger conversation.
As Seth Godin put it in his TED Talk The Tribes We Lead “you can find Ukrainian folk dancers and connect with them, because you want to be connected”. Well, Anna is not a folk dancer and the fact that she lives in Ukraine is not that important. But she is damn good at playing chess, in her free time writes poems and does speeches in Toastmasters. This combination gives her a clear advantage when compared to any random person who could sit next to me on an airplane.
And yet – a weird thought comes to my mind:
Does the possibility to have a chat with anyone in the world rob me of opportunities to connect with the people right next to me?
Am I losing something?
What if, instead of exchanging text with someone located thousands of kilometers away, I tried to strike a conversation with the couple on seats 12E and 12F? Trying to overcome the language barrier with my elementary knowledge of Spanish – perhaps with the support of eye contact, gestures and a smile?
I remember my flight to Warsaw about five years ago. I was seated next to a lady in her forties. I was playing the charmer. “Since we’re spending the next hour next to each other, let me introduce myself. I’m Lukas.” “Hi, I’m Agata,” she replied, entertained. In a normal situation we would never get to talk, but since we were on a plane and we had nothing better to do – we chatted. We chatted for the whole hour. About my beginnings as an analyst in Accenture, about her combining career in export business with taking care of her two children. About the differences between Prague and Warsaw.
“Yeah”, I think as I recall the details of the conversation. “That was kind of nice. Let’s do that again.” I put the phone back into my pocket. I take the headphones off. I turn my head. And then…
I see the faces of both passengers on my right lit by the displays of their iPhones. The man piloting a rocket through a cloud of meteors. The lady scrolling through her Instagram feed, giving each photo a thoughtful consideration tapping the heart symbol where appropriate.
I smile. Maybe next time.
Are we losing something?
I put the headphones back on, take the phone out and resume Vivaldi’s famous violin concert. I close my eyes to fully savor the music. Isolated from the world, I contemplate the use of modern technologies and their role in keeping us (Dis)connected.