FAA Ban on Gadgets: Can We Right Humanity's Greatest Injustice?

This weekend brought another round of stories from major publications expressing outrage and frustration at one of the great injustices of our time.

Yes, I’m talking about the FAA’s ban on using electronic devices on planes during take off and landing.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how the human race has made it this far while suffering the opression of having to turn off electronic devices for 15 minutes — 15 minutes! — at the start and end of a flight.

It’s like they’re asking us not to breathe. Or to make our hearts stop beating. Or switch off our brains. How can humans function, nay, survive without some sort of electronic gadget beating in our hand at all times, to give our lives meaning, hope, and warmth? Without a device in your hand, connected to the Internet, the whole world could change in those 15 minutes. A celebrity could die, and you wouldn’t even know about it! Wouldn’t be able to tweet your condolences until it was too late.

The good news is that The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are on it! They have set out to end this tyranny, and nothing — nothing! — will stop them until we are liberated from the evil, and ignorance, that threatens to engulf us every time we switch off our iPads.

In the Wall Street Journal, guest columnist and academics Daniel Simons and Christopher F. Chabris ask: “Do Our Gadgets Really Threaten Planes?” There didn’t appear to be an option to reply, “Who cares?” They note that the ban was enacted after mostly anecdotal evidence that devices might interfere with airplane communications.

More startling, they reveal that a large chunk of subversives on the planes are ignoring the rules:

“To gather some empirical evidence on this question, we recently conducted an online survey of 492 American adults who have flown in the past year. In this sample, 40% said they did not turn their phones off completely during takeoff and landing on their most recent flight; more than 7% left their phones on, with the Wi-Fi and cellular communications functions active. And 2% pulled a full Baldwin, actively using their phones when they weren’t supposed to.”

One could stop at this point and say, “Hey, this rule might be dumb. But since most folks seems to blow it off, it’s even less of a big deal than we originally thought, which wasn’t much to begin with.”

But no! Justice will be done!

And the Time’s Nick Bilton is right there, continuing his crusade to free us from our digital shackles, in a blog post:  “Teaching the F.A.A. That Dogs Don’t Buckle Up.” Bilton makes the shocking assertion that government is not efficient. And that means that while the FAA recently agreed to revisit the ban, those damn bureaucrats just won’t most fast enough.

It turns out that if the FAA follows its procedures, it would have to test every single electronic device on the planet to clear them for use. Holy moly! That could take…well…until the “next millenium,” Bilton notes. And since by then the Singularity will have occurred and we and our gadgets will be one, such efforts to study the ban seem pointless.

Still, one wonders: Can the human race survive that long?

Again, we could stop at this point, and wonder: Just how much money is the FAA about to spend studying a ban that seems to be widely ignored? And for that matter, seems to be rather, well, trivial to begin with?

But where’s the fun in that? Onward, ye seekers of freedom…

The good news is that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is riding into town, guns a-blazin’. Amazon has sent data to the FAA data to confirm that nothing bad happens when people use their devices during take off and landing. And it must be so, since Amazon would have no incentive to make up something like that. Oddly, the government has not gotten back to Bezos on this.

But the gesture does bring up a valid idea: I sure as heck don’t want to pay for  a study that, one could argue, amounts to an astonishing waste of time and effort. So if it does happen, perhaps such industry titans as Bezos, so eager to make sure we can clutch our Kindles every single moment of our waking lives, could offer to pay for it.

Bezos’ zeal for the issue seems clear in Bilton’s story:

“This is a change that needs to happen,” Mr. Bezos said. “It’s time.”

Amen and Hallelujah, brother! Keep on fighting the good for all of us. I’ll get to work on a Kickstarter campaign to build a statue of you in the nation’s capital in recognition of your willingness to take up this grand cause.