According to several news reports, including one from Minnesota Public Radio (Pilot distractions raise concerns | Minnesota Public Radio NewsQ) the two pilots who flew past their destination, forgetting to land the plane, were not drunk. Nor were they sleeping. No, they were … well, having screen time with their laptops, perhaps the pilot equivalent of texting while flying.
Just a few weeks ago, surveys showed us that most people think texting while driving is not entirely safe – except when they do it. MPR interviewed folks who bore out the data. One said,
“If I’m in a rush or have a lot of things on my mind, I’ll definitely do it,” she said. “But I try to be more conscious about it. I have a pretty good feeling that most, a lot of people do it, even though, like me, they know they shouldn’t.”
The pilots were not supposed to be using their laptops while flying – they may lose their jobs over this. It is certainly compelling evidence of the seductive power of readily-available internet and interactive devices.
I’ve experienced this first-hand in the few weeks since getting my first cell phone – a BlackBerry. The same things that make it a useful tool – the ability to reply to email from students in spare moments, for instant – also make it a terrible distractor.
My mind wandered while I was in a lecture recently – they were going over something I already understood – and, somehow, I instantly had the thought to check my email. Why? I never had that thought in class before – and I did not expect any earth-shattering news. The simple fact that the device was there and ready to go made it possible. The psychogical pay-off, the sense of having accomplished something, lures us in.
I’m glad we have laws about texting while driving – but for all the rest of life, we still need to exert control over ourselves – before we fly past our friends and family, leaving them behind with our eyes glued to little screens.