Online at altitude

It's a little amusing to read this hand-wringing piece over the potential etiquette problems in the move toward installing WiFi on airplanes, considering that flying--in coach at least--has become so unpleasant in recent years that I only do it if I have no other option.

Let me begin by saying that, internet junkie though I am, I think this is going to make an already aggravating process even worse, in part because of the problems described in this article.

Seat 17D is yapping endlessly on an Internet phone call. Seat 16F is flaming Seat 16D with expletive-laden chats. Seat 16E is too busy surfing pornography sites to care. Seat 17C just wants to sleep.

Welcome to the promise of the Internet at 33,000 feet — and the questions of etiquette, openness and free speech that airlines and service providers will have to grapple with as they bring Internet access to the skies in the coming months.
It's the first one that I would find unbearable, frankly. I find the practice of having private conversations in public places to be about as rude as shitting in the garden, if not more so. When I'm in a store, and I'm near someone who's yapping on about some banality, I can always move along. If I'm in my classroom, and a student get a call, I can always do this.

But if I'm trapped in a long, aluminum, winged tube tens of thousands of feet above the ground, I have no escape. At least I can sympathize with a baby whose ears are popping and can only express its discomfort with wailing. Being forced to listen to someone's description of their awesome weekend where they got totally trashed is one of those things that drives me to near-violence.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't see the other things they talk about as being as much of a problem. Playing music loudly? Don't need the internet for that, and it's not an issue so far. Looking at porn? Same thing, really--sure, you could use the internet to access it, but if you're the kind of wanker who's going to pop open a browser of boobs and cock in public, aren't you probably the kind of person who has a detailed, indexed, cross-referenced personal collection on your laptop?

And then there's this:
What if the passenger in front of you wants to recline, making it difficult to surf comfortably on your laptop? What if you're finishing a crucial e-mail on deadline and an adjacent passenger needs to leave for the bathroom? What if the person next to you keeps peering over while you're trying to review a confidential Web site?
What this is really addressing is one of the major problems with flying--too many people crammed into too little space. It's the primary reason I don't fly unless I have to--I can't afford first-class, and there's no room for anything in coach. Internet access isn't going to exacerbate this problem. It's only going to point it out in a different way.

I will admit, it would be nice to be able to distract myself from the cramped quarters, the horrible movies, the noisy neighbors, the lack of service on most flights by looking at blogs and the like on my iPod Touch (thanks Amy!) via its Wi-Fi access, assuming I was forced to be on a plane in the first place, but you know what would be even better? Free Wi-Fi on Amtrak.

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