October 31, 2013
phone restroom

One man’s good news is another’s horrifying sign that the world is broken.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Thursday that you can use your cellphones (in airplane mode) and other portable electronic devices, even below 10,000 feet. Forget those awkward 20 minutes after takeoff as we reach our cruising altitude, or the equally awkward 20 minutes headed back down to terra firma. You need never put it down again.

Thank goodness!

For years, our lives were made miserable by the fact that we were able to use our phones in most places, most of the time (funerals, for taking selfies) but not ALL places ALL of the time. This was awful. You would be sitting in the middle of a perfectly interesting dinner, and suddenly you would wonder what Roger Ebert thought about “The Crying Game” and you would have to wait MULTIPLE MINUTES to find out, at least until you could sneak off to the restroom with your phone and Google it. Or you would be on a plane, in the minutes before takeoff, and you would be playing a Fascinating Phone Game and someone would ask you to turn it off, and so you would get thrown off the plane after flying into a rage, you in this case being Alec Baldwin.

Maybe the people calling phones the new cigarettes are right. In this era, they’re ubiquitous, encouraged on planes and plunked into every movie and commercial. Maybe there will come a time when they are not, when their use in public places will be considered absolutely gauche, and when people who want to indulge in it are forced into a tiny two-foot-square space behind the restaurant, between two dumpsters, where angry raccoons are fighting. But I worry that this will only be because we’ve replaced them with an electronic more intimate yet. Phones are certainly just as addictive. I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, assuming I had my cellphone with me.

I’m not complaining, though. This update by the FAA is the correct position. As Toby Ziegler said on “The West Wing”: “We’re flying in a Lockheed Eagle Series L-1011. Came off the line 20 months ago. Carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system. And you’re telling me I can still flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?” Cell-less space might be desirable, but this was no place for it.

Nope, after months of complaining, we never have to spend a single moment without a cellphone turned on somewhere on our person. We need never be alone with our thoughts again, even in that brief moment when the engines fire up, or that other equally brief moment after landing before the universal clicking starts. You know the moment I mean, pulling into the gate, when all the phones start up around you with a palpable relief, like everyone on board has been holding in a breath. We can’t hold out for a whole flight! We need these things.

If my phone were a person, the relationship we have would be my longest and closest relationship by far, although it is kind of creepy that we always go to the bathroom together. Equally alarming is the fact that I am always waking it up after it is plugged in for the night to ask it questions such as, “How is it possible to get up early?,” “Why is everyone obsessed with teen wolf?” and “What is a vegetable dish that takes five minutes and doesn’t require an oven but isn’t just you going to up to the people hosting the party and presenting them with a tomato?” It’s a lot to put up with, yet it never gets bothered, not even when I fill it with sub-par music from my favorite Finnish monster metal band. It’s an extension of the mind that does for dimly recollected facts what the little red line does for the spelling of words — absolves us of any need to carry them around with us. They’re in our pocket, not our brains. And it’s great!

The strange thing is, I’m genuinely delighted that the only 20 minutes EVER in the course of my entire LIFE that I was required to have my phone off are no more. The mistake George Orwell made when he was envisioning the future was that we wouldn’t put the telescreens there ourselves. Of course there are screens everywhere, watching us, collecting all our data. We brought them there! We posted those updates! Can you imagine how miserable we’d be at the beach without our tablets? Bradbury, in “Fahrenheit 451,” knew that we would be absolutely hell-for-pleather bent on covering every available surface with the Latest and Best in Home Technology. Screens everywhere, eyes watching all the time! Yes, please. Sign me up!

The one restriction on the new rule is that phones still can’t be used on planes to place calls. But that is fine. Who uses cellphones to make calls? Weirdo.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.