Why We Should Keep Wi-Fi Off Airplanes

Will disconnection become a new form of luxury? The debate over airborne WiFi access may go deeper than you think.
August 10, 2011

I'm scared that our compulsive need for connectivity has extended itself to the heavens. This will have great repercussions.

For me, an airplane flight has always been a welcome window of forced thinking. A time to read, write and let your mind wander a bit. Sure, you can plug in and watch movies or play cards. But you can also take some time to think.

What you couldn't do, until recently, is connect. They tried sky-phones, but they were so cost prohibitive that they proved to be a short-lived fad. (And good riddance!) Who wants to be reachable in the sky?

But now the connectivity obsessives are at it again, and this time it's a real threat: Wi-Fi in the sky.

I know we've all fallen in love with real-time responsiveness. My team is the first to call me out on extreme and constant connectivity. My colleagues find e-mailing me to be more akin to instant messaging. But I'm not proud of this. This constant reactiveness is the greatest threat to my—and our—ability to think deeply.

In the era of "reactionary workflow," when we're always eager to react, respond, and surf the tops of our many feeds and inboxes, we seldom start a thought on our own. We don’t disconnect for long enough to really think organically, without interruption.

In an era where most thoughts are prompted by a stimulus of the hyper-connected-twitter-e-mail kind, we seldom disconnect long enough to think organically—independent of the stuff we are reacting to.

To be clear, I don’t think the problem is technology, I think it’s connectivity. Which brings us back to the gorgeous views and sacred space for deep thinking that is still available—at least for now—at 30,000 feet.

I remember a recent comment from Beth Comstock, GE's Chief Marketing Officer and a past 99% Conference speaker, about her own struggle to preserve time for deep thinking and long-term strategy brainstorms. When overwhelmed by the daily minutia, she commented, "I know it's time to book a flight to China."

Perhaps in-flight time, where your head is literally in the clouds, is more valuable than you thought?

Here's a marketing idea that any airline is welcome to steal: Embrace "no Wi-Fi" and time for disconnection as a feature. Every flight is a departure from the firehose of daily communications and reactionary workflow. Every flight offers a precious return, if only for a few hours, to your intrinsic sense of wonder.

Forced disconnection is perk for which I am willing to pay a premium.

What do you think? Will disconnection become a new form of luxury?