I remember, because I am petty, an argument I had with an air steward years ago. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to turn your phone off while we take off,” she said. “Oh, it’s on airplane mode,” I replied. “Yes, but while we take off, you’ll have to turn the device off.” “But it’s on… airplane mode,” I said again. “This is what it’s for. This situation. That’s even… that’s the name.” She wasn’t having it.
Being British, “aeroplane mode” would be a more accurate description, but because Silicon Valley has now swallowed the Earth and we’re all just addicts being buried alive, the American “airplane mode” is what most of us call the setting that prevents signal transmission, thereby disabling calls, text messages and wifi. It is the way we switch off – without actually switching off. It allows us a pause in the constant chatter of life. It is a deep breath of the analogue. It’s a small toggle that allows the brain the equivalent of kicking one’s shoes off when home and sprawling across the sofa.
Of course, having the healthy option on offer doesn’t mean we choose it. Sure, we can see the fruit platter on the menu, but we can also see the gateau (is it… whispering to us?). Quite often, I let the choice of airplane mode drift. I tell myself I won’t look at my phone for a little bit, but I don’t actually go the full mile and turn on airplane mode. What if there’s an urgent message (by which I mean an amusing gif)?
But the rewards when strapping oneself in, tightening the belt and committing, are sublime. Take a walk when airplane mode is on and pull your phone out every now and again to alter music choices, or snap pics, safe from news app push notifications and missed calls. Safe from the WhatsApp discourse pinballing on to the lockscreen.
Airplane mode needs to fulfil its potential; it should not be confined to cinemas and theatres, concert halls and examination rooms. And, well, airplanes. Airplane mode needs to spread its wings and take us under them. More and more, I feel we need the protection of the natural, or the unplugged. We need to step over cables. Not via a tech-free villa in Ibiza, but with some self-discipline.
Airplane mode is one of the few things that facilitates this. It’s better than a distraction, because it shuts the jaws of the thing itself. I don’t know which engineer’s idea it was, but I’d like to shake their hand and take them for a drink – strictly no phones allowed.