What is it about those tiny FaceBook alerts on my smart phone, those little nods of approval? They can keep a writer distracted for hours, give a stay-at-home parent quick jolts of interaction satisfaction, change a teenage girl’s popularity ranking in a matter of seconds, and, in my own case, comfort a traveler with a fear of flying. What is it about social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, that reassures us of our relevance, existence, likeability, even survival?
Our smart phones are attached to our hips, literally for some of us with the “I’m much more important than you know” belt carriers. Go to any given bar or party, any “social” scene and you’ll see faces aglow, staring into a screen, trolling, liking, and tweeting. For better or worse, being connected is security for some of us. People know where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with depending on how often you update or check-in. Our lives have been this way for years now (Facebook turned 10 this year). But, it wasn’t until recent years that inflight connectivity really became a thing. In 2008 Gogo debuted on commercial aircraft. Today, Gogo and other connectivity providers help feed our addiction to social media (in addition to letting business travelers get some work done).
On a recent Delta Air Lines flight from Portland, Maine to Austin, Texas, I had several hours of what would once have been solitude, a time to read, write, or for a worrier like me, nail-biting anxiety. At 10,000 feet, I logged into the Gogo portal and started blasting my accounts with plane wing photos, Gogo hashtags, and play-by-play updates. The connection wasn’t always the strongest and it took patience I haven’t had since I worked from a Dell, but the fact that I hadn’t gone social media A-wall for a simple trip to Texas amazed me. Not only did I feel relief that I could keep my cousin in Texas updated on the journey, but I met a deadline, reminded my neighbor to feed the cat, and kept myself so busy that by the time we’d landed, I’d forgotten I was a nervous wreck.
Perhaps it’s ignorance or inexperience, but with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 haunting many travelers, my own fear of flying, and all of those “what if’s”, being able to track my own trip to Texas comforted me. That night, having landed safely in Austin, I scrolled down my own Facebook page. There, on the screen before me, was my trip all the way from the Northeast to the Southwest. I had unwittingly left breadcrumbs for anyone and everyone to find, a social media itinerary. Being connected kept me feeling safe just as being connected keeps some of us feeling important or popular. My only problem now is that I’m hooked, hooked on inflight Internet and these days, it isn’t always cheap!