When I initially heard that some aeroplanes were introducing wifi to selected flights, my immediate thought was - why? What is so important whilst in transit that it can't wait till landing? Is this removing the modern worlds final place of total freedom from hashtags and likes?
Admittedly, on a recent Emirates flight to the UK I got lured in fifteen minutes prior to my first layover by two-hours of free wifi. I was curious as to what all the fuss was about and it was handy arranging my airport pick up ahead of time. However, was it really necessary? There are two primary methods to enable a passenger Internet connection on an airplane; if you want to know what these are, you’ve come to the wrong article.
I'm a huge advocate for new technologies that simplify and improve our lives; and there are some pros to having wifi access on planes. If it is a business trip, it could reduce time wasted travelling and increase productivity. However fellow opposers argue that it could actually inhibit productivity with the added distraction of people making phone calls, and unlike being on the underground, you can’t move seats when you’re on a plane.
Year by year we use our screens considerably more - we order food from them; handle our banking; we even use them to work out. These are all arguably very useful additions to our app-store; however there has been a lot of persuasive research lately about the effects of smartphones on mental health - anxiety, depression and disturbed sleep are a few of the many linked side effects. I will chat through some of these in the paragraphs to follow.
Like a smoker going cold-turkey, the vast majority of smartphone owners experience anxiety and distress when they are without their device. This is added stress on top of the day-to-day stress of normal life, and is not something we need if you ask me. As Hooked author Nir Eyel powerfully stated, “we use our booze and our tech for the same reason - an escape from restless reality.” And this is coming from a guy who wrote a guideline book to teach technology people how to build habit-forming products.
The strong and significant association between social media use and depression is also widely recognised and tested. A US-based study found that levels of depression increased with total amount of time spent using social media and number of visits to social media sites per week. Although some other studies have produced mixed findings, it is easy to see why the constant use of "likes" could cause people to continually seek validation from others to bolster their self esteem; or why scrolling through other people's holiday snaps could make a relaxed weekend at home feel slightly less appealing.
What else is really worrying is that, according to a study published in September 2015, the amount of caffeine in a double espresso has less of an effect on sleep quality than bright light exposure from smart-phones at night! My boss recently bought an old-school alarm clock, and leaves his phone in the living room before bed at night for this precise reason.
In summary, although there are some obvious benefits to having wifi access on aeroplanes for business use; surely on the whole it is more beneficial to protect the last remaining refuge we have free from constant mobile interaction. I can think of a few more useful ways we could be spending our aeroplane time - sleeping, meditating, journaling; or whatever happened to getting stuck into a good book?
Do you see air travel as a safe haven from screen-time, or are you counting down the days until airplane mode is a thing of the past?