How do you feel about airlines? I ask because I want to introduce a discussion in a non-prejudicial way. That discussion is nothing less ambitious than our relationship to technology.
We all have our airline horror stories. If you have sat on the tarmac in a plane for three hours or more with no way to escape, for example, I give you a free pass to write me an e-mail with lots of four-letter words. Because I am going to suggest that in a true consumer meritocracy, airlines might just be at the top of everyone's list of favorites.
We're not the same consumers in the air, I would argue, as we are on the ground. There is no "retro" at 10,000 feet. Anything that would prevent us from hurtling through our busy lives at less than full speed would be intolerable. And, frankly, we want state-of-the-art technology to ensure that we don't plummet to our death or even have to endure a bumpy ride.
Having read a lot of Twitter over the years, a recurring theme seems to be airline travel. Heavy tweeters tend to be frequent fliers. It's not really an accident that the service is called Twitter. It's all part of the same space, the same stream of the 21st-century world and the contemporary human imagination that animates it.
The bloated Western/industrialized psyche is held aloft by technological achievements that are nothing short of miraculous. Yet our consciousness and our attention seem focused elsewhere. Without becoming some kind of poor man's Sigmund Freud, I think our attention gets directed at our confrontation with the reality of being human beings who eat, sleep, talk, have sex and go to the bathroom. We often seek to master that constraint by paying too much or too little attention to any combination of those things. To the extent that they are voluntary, there's no clear answer as to how much is the right amount.
The current transfer of mind to the computer is the great theater of the battle between the restless human soul and our perceived low-tech bodies. It's as if we need to know the mind rages against the limits of the flesh and the grave 24/7 while we (hopefully) turn off the screens to eat, sleep and make love. Too often, we don't. It's not important if semi-verbal teenage scrawlings are the message rather than great philosophers. The point is that neighbor kids who live two houses away from each other can Facebook without there being sights and smells and sounds and milk and cookies involved. We feel like that's some sort of victory.
I've spent too much of my youth--and not-so-youth--on computers, not to mention time spent dialing up and so forth...ugh. As an early adopter, I feel, in some small way, responsible. Each online innovation felt like a deus ex machina on the stage of my life. Instant messaging, woo! Match.com, woo! Yet after a decade and a half, I'm not sure what the tally is. I revel in how youthful my body feels but sometimes am ashamed at how juvenile my mind feels. I'm convinced that marriage and childrearing were a much better pasture for spirits in their twenties and thirties than the one in which we graze.
And when we graze, we do so with great fanfare. As in every other area of life, we tweak and twiddle, reading labels and Googling ingredients. Let's face it, a fair amount of Medieval religion has crept into our relationship to food and drink. "Also flavored syrups — the Starbucksian kiss of death — are coming back in a big way, but now they're housemade, artsy, and artisanal." WTF? Sugar and water and some flavoring? Are they blessed by some hipster pope?
No, I think there's something bigger going on here...much bigger. Our food and drink must not come from the machine, we believe. As much as foodie bloggery is mostly just Weekly Shopper-level journalism--and I include myself in that indictment--the quote has a real point. Multinationals like BP can provide the fuel that keeps us from freezing and falling from the sky. But the stuff we put in our mouths? Hey now, that shit's serious, and it won't do to have it provided by publicly traded corporations. Even the mundane ingredients they use are the "kiss of death" because to take sustenance from capital would be a curse.
Back to airlines. No airlines without deep fuckin' pockets. The military-industrial complex par excellence. You are basically talking government pockets, defense industry pockets or, most likely, some combination of the two. The concentration of capital is what gets us off the ground, though I suppose one could argue that airline revenues are now basically crowdsourced with almost all tickets being sold online. We are made extremely uncomfortable by that concentration--and with extremely good reason. Yet we react to that discomfort as humans always have, with fear and superstition. Major food and beverage companies wake up every morning with yet another idea of how to poison us in some new and devious way. Right?
I would suggest not. I think they really, really like making money, and the surest way for a multinational to make money is to have a large and growing customer base. When the pilot has me at 30,000 feet, I want him to be guided by the profit motive. Pure and simple as that. Anything else falls more or less short, including appeals to what is right or wrong. By some sort of analogy, I don't much care to take up bowhunting--so you're damn right I'll take my sustenance from capital, thank you very much. By more logic than I can usually muster, I'm not so sure I want my food and drink "artsy," because artists are famous for one thing above all: starving.