A couple of days ago, while I was procrastinating studying, my dad called to tell me he was getting on a plane headed to the States from China. Later at night, while I was still procrastinating, he called to say he’d arrived! We live in a world where someone can travel to the opposite end of the Earth in the same time that someone else puts off reading one chapter of astronomy. Amazing.
But what happens when the mechanics of that world are disturbed?
The grounding of planes across Europe after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano is revealing just how integral international air travel has become. Modernity is all about speed - fast is good but instantaneous is better. Along those lines, boats are cool but, shit son, we really need those planes!
Which has got me thinking: In what other ubiquitous but underappreciated ways does the expectation of instantaneousness permeate our lives?
Get separated from your friends at the mall? Call them. Find out at 11:53PM that it’s an acquaintance’s birthday? Post “Happy (not technically belated) birthday!” on their Facebook wall. A natural disaster hits some poverty-stricken country? Donate some money and expect that it’ll drop out of the news as it inevitably does, to be replaced by the next natural-disaster-and-poverty-stricken country.
The simple fact of living in a world where information is instantaneous means that we expect everything else to be too. If something’s no longer making the headlines, we think that it’s been resolved. Even when something is still in the headlines, we expect that it won’t be soon. Case in point: my mother just bought three plane tickets to London for mid-August the other day. Now, if we expect - as some experts testify can happen - that the volcanic eruption will last a year, that would have been an incredibly dumb purchase. But we don’t expect such a scenario because a year without planes over a major international airport is literally unthinkable. As in, no one can seriously entertain the thought.
Sure, there have been articles written hypothesizing extreme scenarios where Europe’s climate gets colder and the European Union falls apart, but these are intellectual exercises. We instinctively feel that this is outside the realm of possibility. But is it really? I am just now realizing how much we take the impossible for granted.