My office is very close to a major international airport, so in the course of an average workday I see between 10 and 20 planes. They fly overhead as I drive on the highway and they fly past as I sit in window filled conference rooms. I thought that I had gotten to the point where they were completely routine, hardly worth noticing.
And then this week, as I was coming in early when it was still pitch black out, a plane flew overhead on a path perfectly aligned to the highway. I came from behind with it’s lights burning bright through the dark and the fog until I saw it like a bird, wings outspread directly above and then in front of me. The image conveyed in that single motion at that single instant was beautiful. I was stunned.
It struck me in that moment that I have lost a little bit of wonder around technology. And there is no place where technology is more ‘hum-drum’ to me than in transportation. Sure, driverless cars, drones and hovercraft still feel cool, but a plane? A car? A train?
But there it was, a graphic in-my-face reminder of the fact that while plane travel is routine it remains worthy of awe.
I think the problem is that transportation has become so routine that now we are able to complain about it. There was a point in human history where moving more than 10 miles away from your family meant an all day trip — young couples who chose to ‘go West’ were effectively saying good-bye forever. You couldn’t complain about bad traffic or busy routes or inconvenience — people were too worried about survival and figuring out how to build an entirely new safety network.
Now, I have a daily commute of 32 miles one way. With good traffic, I can make it door to door in 45 minutes including walking to and from my car. We can drive the 270 miles to our parents’ houses in about five hours, connected the whole way with satellite radio, DVD entertainment and safe reliable communication. There are four different public transportation methods to get back and forth, too, ranging from $30 to $250 round trip.
How awesome is that? Pretty darn awesome.
And that awesome has made me weak. When the traffic is bad I have the luxury of complaining, sitting in my safe, reliable car on a well-paved road. When a plane is delayed I have the luxury of being annoyed and anxious. When I sit on a crowded train I have the luxury of being uncomfortable, stuffed with others just like me who are also going places with agendas and purpose.
I’m thoughtful that it took a moment — a picture perfect in my windshield moment– to jar me out of my routine and remind me just how epic it is to be a human moving around the earth in 2015. I can go nearly anywhere. I can see nearly anything. And in 95% of cases it will be routine, the normal balance of predictable and inconvenient.
And that’s not boring, it’s pretty darn cool.