Talking tech since 2003

It’s been an eventful past few months regarding the use of gadgets on airplanes. Specifically, just last month the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally lifted the ban on using electronics during takeoff and landings, meaning that we can use tablets, smartphones, and any other gadget that we want, so long as they aren’t using cellular networks. That last bit is due to a ban from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—but news broke today that the FCC, too, may be changing its mind.

A Wall Street Journal article reports that the FCC may soon propose a change in its current ban on cellular calls and data being used on planes once they reach 10,000 feet, but not without first engaging in “a vigorous debate about the social merits of allowing people to make phone calls amid a captive audience at close quarters.” That last bit is something of a relief, because it’s bad enough being jammed next to strangers with no hope of escape. It’d be even worse if they were all on the phone, too.

I used to commute via bus to Manhattan from Upstate New York, and the trip was about two hours (give or take) each way. It was a rough enough ride in general, but it was always made much, much worse by people who couldn’t keep from talking on their phones for part or the whole length of the trip. The time I spent commuting also made me completely hate ringtones of any kind, and I’ve routinely kept my phone on vibrate ever since.

Jokes aside, there are definitely some legitimate questions about whether or not opening flights up to cell phone use is actually a net positive. There’s no question that our connection to others in the real and digital world has grown much, much stronger since cell phones and smartphones have been widely adopted, but the jury’s still out on whether or not this is a good thing for people in general. If the FCC does decide to allow people to chat it up while in the sky, I’m hopeful that most airlines will urge its customers to refrain for the good of everyone’s sanity.

And, as the article points out, it’ll still be up to the airlines themselves to install the hardware necessary to facilitate cellular-based devices. It’s going to be an interesting few years if this ban gets lifted.

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