Stranger in a Strange Land

Although I try to embrace my introverted nature as much as possible, there are days when it’s not easy to do. Today was one of those days. Even though I know that I don’t function well in large groups, especially when the dominant language spoken (French) is one that I still struggle with, I develop a type of amnesia and put myself in these situations again and again. Surely, I think to myself, it’s not too much to navigate a room of full of perfectly nice people, who are friendly and kind, and on most days maybe it wouldn’t be a problem. But then there are days when I feel particularly “innie,” when painful social interactions have me questioning my intelligence and sanity, and I return home feeling like I just want to crawl into bed for the rest of the day.

Imagine the scenario: a party, people talking and laughing, and the introvert stands alone among them, stuck in a freeze frame while activity buzzes around her. She looks at those closest to her, how alien they seem, how at ease they are with each other, they appear to know just what to say, how to act. The introvert doesn’t understand. Who are these strange creatures, and how does one make contact with them? Someone makes a joke, and she thinks, yes, now smile, appear to be amused. But it’s no use, they are seeing through her, she’s certain, they know she’s not one of them.

That’s the kind of day it’s been. And in thinking about it, the title of the post just jumped into my head. I knew that I had heard it somewhere, so I googled it and found that’s it the title of a sci-fi novel by Robert A. Heinlein (and also a phrase found in the book of Exodus). I’ve read some Heinlein, but not this particular book, so I was surprised to discover how closely the plot mirrors my feelings about the day’s events.

Heinlein’s protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, is a human raised on Mars by Martians. The novel chronicles his return to Earth as an adult, and the difficulties he experiences in understanding human concepts that are unknown on Mars. While there is a lot more to the book — including the introduction of the term “grok,*” one of my husband’s favorite geekisms — it’s the idea of trying to understand an alien culture that I find interesting. And the fact that though Smith may not “grok” human culture, the humans he meets likewise aren’t familiar with unique Martian beliefs that may be superior, or as valuable, as human ones.

I will try to remember this when I am again in an uncomfortable social situation. My perspective as an introvert doesn’t make me lesser than, but just different, from those around me. At least I will try to “grok” that message, if I can.

*One of the definitions of “grok” in the OED, is “to understand intuitively or by empathy;” for more info, see this Wikipedia article.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (3)

Austen’s Introvert

For years I’ve been a fan of the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I first watched it soon after it came out in the mid-90s, and have watched it a few more times since then. I was thrilled to receive the Blu-ray version of it this last Christmas, and wasted little time in watching all six hours of it yet again.

Seated in front of our big screen TV with a group of girlfriends, drinking tea and eating crustless cucumber sandwiches, I saw the familiar scenes unfold, but something felt different. Like all young girls with literary aspirations, I had always identified with the witty and compassionate Elizabeth Bennet, but now I was starting to find her slightly annoying. Why was she so slow to see the true intentions of the taciturn Mr. Darcy? To me, his actions and demeanor were easily readable, but she seemed utterly blind to his real character. While I know that this is the central theme of the novel (to which the prejudice in the title refers), I had always seen things from Elizabeth’s perspective, and like her, viewed Mr. Darcy as a proud, misunderstood man who needed to be drawn out in order to be happy.

But now my perspective had completely shifted, and I felt a kinship with Mr. Darcy instead. There was nothing wrong with him, I realized, he was just an introvert! I felt with him the discomfort of forced sociability, and the frustration of being misjudged because of a wish to keep one’s private thoughts to oneself.

It may be that I’m projecting more onto the character than is reasonable, but it will be interesting to go back and read the novel through this “introvert” lens. Whether I will find confirmation of my theory there or not, I find it fascinating that with age, and increasing comfort with my own way of being in the world, old stories can transform into new friends.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (8)

Time Out

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything here, and I suppose I should feel guilty about that, but the truth is that I don’t. For the last half year or so I have just not had the inclination to put anything of myself out into the world (apart from short notes on Twitter); I guess I’ve been suffering a form of writer’s block. But I’m not stressed about it, because I’ve become comfortable with the fact that generating constant content for a blog doesn’t suit my style — sometimes I really don’t have anything to say!

It goes along with being an introvert, this discomfort with talking/writing for its own sake. I knew when I first started this blog that this was a danger, and it has been borne out by the frequent gaps in posting in the past few years. This may not be the ideal way to run a blog, but it feels sustainable to me. All I can do is hope that past readers will check back in from time to time.

Because at the moment, I do feel like I have something to say. It’s time to throw my hat back in the ring, and fire up the old keyboard. My life is very full at the moment, and new thoughts are bubbling away. One source for this is the impending arrival of my first child — yes, I will be an introvert Mommy come June! There is more to say about how the world looks to this introvert, and I hope you’ll join me once again on that adventure.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (5)

Introvert Internet Roundup

During my daily internet browsing, I’m always on the lookout for articles or news stories that relate to introverts. This week I found a few items that I think will be of interest to Spectatrix readers.

First off, a nice piece from Garrison Keillor on Salon about his periodic need for solitude, in which he conjures up a New York café experience that does sound “heavenly”:

…to walk into a little cafe with an armload of newspapers and sit at the counter and read them over a bowl of chili and a grilled cheese and a white mug of coffee, and a waitress who says, “What else would you like, love?” — this is heaven…

The second item I found is an essay from The Guardian written by Rachel Denton, a woman who calls herself a hermit. In the article, Denton describes not only her daily life as a hermit, which is quite interesting, but also the experiences that led up to her decision to live a solitary life. In particular, I found it fascinating that she had once been determined to become a nun, but she found even convent life was too social for her taste.

The final link I’ve got is from the Web site of the Academy of American Poets, which features a collection of “Poems about Anonymity and Loneliness.” I take issue with the title of this sampling of poems, which they admit further on also includes poems about “solitary thought,” because I think “melancholy” is a better adjective than “loneliness.” And as I wrote about in an earlier post, melancholy can be a good thing. In any case, I like this gathering of poems, and I hope you do too.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (3)

The Price of Fame

Joe and I recently attended the European premiere of the new Terminator movie, at which some of the film’s stars, including Christian Bale, were present. We didn’t get to see Bale navigate the media scrum, as we were standing in line (with thousands of others) waiting to get our seats, but I did overhear someone express their opinion (in unprintable French) of the actor. That shook me. Earlier Joe had asked me if I would like to be so famous (for my writing, of course) that so many people would come out to see me. I gave him an unequivocal “NO.” I knew that I would hate to be the focus of so many people, but also would hate the fickleness of the crowd. Such hypocrisy in spending so much time, money, and effort to see a celebrity, yet still be able to turn on them at any moment.

I imagine that kind of fickleness is what proved so disturbing to Britain’s Got Talent contestant, and now global superstar, Susan Boyle. To have everyone build you up and then criticize you for the smallest misstep (as happened after her second performance on the show) would rattle the most jaded of performers, let alone an introverted person with little experience of fame. I thought it was telling that between her second and third appearances, those charged with her care thought it best to isolate her, from the media and from the public, I presume.

Isolation as an escape from an intrusive public seems to be the issue behind another story that came out today. Vanity Fair is planning to publish an article in its July issue about Johnny Depp’s private island in the Bahamas, and in a quote from the piece, Depp shares that life on the island is his “…way of trying to return to normalcy… Escapism is survival to me.” Never mind the fact that owning one’s own island is not “normal” for most people, I find his statement extremely depressing. Sure, it would be nice to have his wealth and opportunities, but if your only means of escape is to live Robinson Crusoe style, that means you look at the rest of the world as a prison. As tempting as it is, I would choose the ability to move (relatively) freely in the world over a private island any day.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (4)

Attention vs. Interaction

In previous posts I’ve mentioned the advice column, Since You Asked, written by the inimitable Cary Tennis, which often seems to feature introvert-related issues. Today’s question, posed by a forlorn introvert, had to do with that age-old problem (at least for introverts): how do you stay true to yourself yet still make friends? The letter writer pointed out, quite rightly I thought, that the old self-help trope that when trying to cultivate friendships, one should “be oneself,” is not useful to someone who is by nature more solitary.

Cary wrote what I thought was a helpful response, agreeing that “being oneself” is a poor way to describe the necessary action in this kind of situation. Instead, he counseled the letter writer to “Hold your own space” in a social setting, in opposition to “the signals you are getting from the rest of the people that you do not exist.” Even when standing silent amongst the crowd, a time that can seem excruciating to introverts, Cary argues that the introvert is still making an impact. As an example of this, in what may be my favorite part of the column, Cary imagines a “conclave of introverts” in which “silences erupt for deliberation.” The lone extrovert in such a group will certainly understand what kind of power simply “holding one’s space” has, as he waits for the relief of a return to conversation (or so Cary, an admitted extrovert, has experienced it).

Finally, Cary analyses the whole phenomenon of “attention,” advising the letter writer to determine what he/she really wants to get out of social interaction, and even questions whether interaction as such needs to be part of the equation. In what I think is a brilliant formulation (why didn’t I think of it before), Cary states that “Wanting attention is not the same as wanting interaction.” He cites the example of performers and lecturers who may thrive in the spotlight, but be reluctant to engage in social interaction outside of their work. This certainly sheds new light on previous posts about introverted actors and politicians.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments Off on Attention vs. Interaction

Loner Solidarity

I’ve usually found the CNN Web site a good source for catching up on daily news, but lately I’ve been disappointed with the sensationalistic tone it often employs. One example of this trend was a “Commentary” article written this week by James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, regarding the recent mass shootings in Alabama and Germany.

To be fair, the article does include some insightful commentary about the dynamics behind such mass killings, but that insight was undercut by the title given to the piece: “Loners, losers — and killers.” As I wrote a few years ago after the Virginia Tech murders, using the term “loner” as a key descriptor of the perpetrators of such atrocities is unfair to the vast majority of self-proclaimed loners who are not violent. Plus, it makes no distinction between those who choose solitude, and those who “lack emotional support from friends or family,” as the article describes them.

However, I was glad to see that many of the commenters on the article took issue with the use of the word “loner,” and offered their own experiences as well-adjusted and healthy “loners” as a challenge to this type of characterization. It made me hopeful that the message may eventually be heard by the mainstream media and society at large, and that one day the term “loner” will not be carelessly applied, or used to stigmatize a behavior that is second nature to so many.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (10)

Facebook: The Honeymoon’s Over

More than a year ago, I wrote a post about how I had finally been persuaded to join the social networking site Facebook. At the time, I was still new to Facebook and finding it to be a handy way to reconnect with friends and family around the world. Today, I still appreciate that aspect of the site, but I have to say that the pain of using Facebook now outweighs any pleasure I get from it.

It may seem melodramatic to use the word “pain” to describe the emotion I feel when logging on, while using, and even after signing out of Facebook. But that’s exactly what I felt a few weekends ago, when at the end of a particularly long session, I found myself in an incredibly bad mood and realized it was the time spent on Facebook that had brought on the blues. I decided to go on a Facebook “fast”; I avoided the site for a week to see if it brought any change to my daily mood. As I had imagined, the experiment proved that I was indeed happier when not under the Facebook influence.

In the course of the experiment, I identified a few reasons why I was having such a negative experience on Facebook, all having to do with my introvert tendencies. First of all, I find it difficult to come up with Status Updates (short descriptions of what you’re doing at the moment), and when I do come up with one, I am inevitably disappointed when no one responds to it. As an introvert, it takes more energy to be interactive and when it is not reciprocated, I feel let down, whereas I imagine that people who update their status more frequently (most often extroverts) don’t place such emphasis on each thing they write. And, as I complained to my husband, it often seems the most banal things get a lot of feedback, such as “X person likes pie,” to which he replied that it was a lot easier for someone to respond to that kind of note, than “X person is experiencing a dark night of the soul.” I had to admit he had a point.

Which is to say that I shouldn’t expect deep emotional connection from a site that most people use to post drunken photos of themselves. And that brings me to another aspect of what depresses me about Facebook. I can see (in great detail often) how friends and acquaintances are socializing with other people (i.e., not me), and that makes me feel even more like a wallflower than I already am. Of course, a lot of my “friends” on Facebook live a great distance from me, so there’s not a chance for me to be the one in their impromptu photo shoot, but even if I was living in the same city, there’s no guarantee it would be any different. I am not a social butterfly, and that won’t change.

While all this may sound like a self-induced pity party, I am actually relieved to be able to put a finger on what was bothering me all along. I think it’s because I had once imagined that Facebook would be a useful tool for us introverts (and I’m willing to admit that there may still be some who find it so) that my disappointment with it is more acute. Now I see what I should have seen all along; there’s a reason they call it “social” networking. Facebook is the perfect medium for extroverts to find and interact with other extroverts. I just find it tiring. I’d rather spend some face time with a good book.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (12)

Our New President the Introvert

I’m really enjoying working my way through Newsweek’s seven-part behind-the-scenes account of the recent US election, Secrets of the 2008 Campaign. I’m learning fun facts, such as the Secret Service’s code names for Barack Obama’s daughters (“Radiance” and “Rosebud”), and not-so-fun facts, like the details about infighting among Hilary Clinton’s staffers. I was especially interested to learn more about the temperament of our President-Elect, and to realize, based on some descriptions of him, that he just might be an introvert.

I must confess that I usually imagine politicians to be uniformly extroverted, as constant interaction with the public would be sure to drain the energy of most introverts. But, I also believe that introverts can learn to be more extroverted in certain situations, and there are some (perhaps tending to the Feeling end of the Myers-Briggs Feeling-Thinking continuum), who really thrive on meaningful interaction with friendly and like-minded individuals. I obviously can’t speak for Mr. Obama, but here are a few pieces of evidence that might confirm his tendency to introversion.

In the first chapter of the series, “How He Did It,” there is a description of some of Obama’s self-doubts early in the campaign, particularly regarding his performance in preliminary debates, and how he dealt with them:

Obama was a relentless self-improver: “I’m my own worst critic,” he told NEWSWEEK, but he was also a loner who needed to step back away from the others, to look more closely at himself. He wasn’t chilly, exactly, but for a politician he was astonishingly inner-directed, and that could make him seem remote.

There are so many introvert “code” words in these two sentences; “loner,” “inner-directed,” and “remote” are very common ways that introverts are characterized (although not always by introverts themselves). Further along in the article there is a telling description of how members of the press first saw the candidate, noting they found him “chilly and guarded.” Sounds like a misunderstood introvert to me!

If you add these observations to Obama’s reputation as a voracious reader and accomplished writer (often hallmarks of an introverted nature), the picture gets a little clearer. If my conjectures are true, and Obama really is an introvert, my admiration for his commitment to a tough job is even greater, and I would be delighted to know that someone “like me” will be occupying the Oval Office come January.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (6)

Writing and the Solitary Life

I had the good fortune recently to come across an interview with acclaimed novelist Marilynne Robinson that ran in the Fall 2008 issue of the Paris Review. I had heard of Robinson’s work, especially her 2004 novel, Gilead, which earned her the Pulitzer Prize, but I’d never read any of it. This interview not only made me very eager to do so, but also inspired me as a writer and introvert. I was especially charmed by the description of her preferred habit of dress when in writing mode, as “…a pair of loose pants and a sweatshirt,” since I am also a believer in the idea of comfortable clothing as a means to creative insight.

But what struck me most about Robinson’s exchange with interviewer Sarah Fay was her account of the importance solitude holds in her life and writing:

…I’m kind of a solitary. This would not satisfy everyone’s hopes, but for me it’s a lovely thing. I recognize the satisfactions of a more socially enmeshed existence than I cultivate, but I go days without hearing another human voice and never notice it. I never fear it. The only thing I fear is the intensity of my attachment to it. It’s a predisposition in my family. My brother is a solitary. My mother is a solitary. I grew up with the confidence that the greatest privilege was to be alone and have all the time you wanted. That was the cream of existence. I owe everything that I have done to the fact that I am very much at ease being alone. It’s a good predisposition in a writer…

Although I’m an unrepentant introvert, I have to admit that the level of solitude Robinson describes would not suit me. At certain points in my life I have spent long stretches of time “without hearing another human voice,” but it’s never felt entirely comfortable. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a large family that rarely afforded me that type of isolation, but also never left me alone with my fears and anxieties, that I would find extreme solitude difficult rather than enriching, as Robinson seems to do. In fact, what I most prefer is to be left to my own devices, but to be within earshot of someone else doing their own thing (luckily, my husband has the same kind of preference). Silence is wonderful, but the thought of being alone for days on end fills me with dread.

That’s why I’m so fascinated by how Robinson seems to revel in that solitary state. She proclaims the benefits of solitude in a way I’ve rarely heard before, and I can see why it is so important to her even though I can’t fully understand it. But even if I can’t imagine myself benefiting from that type of profound solitude, I think it’s at least necessary for me (and probably most other writers and creative thinkers as well) to experience it in smaller doses. Like cultivating an ability to sleep for brief periods of time and then return to work refreshed (a talent I would also like to have), Robinson has inspired me to do more to cultivate my capacity for deep solitude — to be able to lose myself in it, to walk around within it, like some kind of magic circle, and then be able to return to my relatively more social life. It’s strange for me to think about needing to practice solitude, because it usually comes so easily for me, but I think the kind of solitude Robinson is describing isn’t a default state, but a purposeful one. Not a retreat, but a mode of being that enables a writer to do her best work. That sounds like a great place to be.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (3)

Summer, and the Living Ain’t Easy

Summer has always been my least favorite season, so I was delighted to see an article on last week with the blunt title Why I hate summer. The author, Rachel Shukert, shares painful memories of childhood summers spent at camp, where she encountered the “tyranny of enforced merrymaking,” and preferred to hide out in the infirmary, where she “…lay on a lumpy cot, reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel.” This made me laugh out loud; I saw myself in her description, and how weird I must have seemed at the time. Of course, at that age the pain was all too real, and the need to escape “enforced merrymaking” was all-consuming.

It didn’t matter where I spent the summer as a kid, at the lake, in the country, or simply at home, my nose was pretty much always in a book, and when forced outside, I preferred solitary pursuits (walking, swimming) to hanging out with cousins or siblings (although I loved them dearly). That made me a bit of an outsider, but it was the only way I could cope with all the activity going on around me. Plus, I just loved to read. For me, the best part of summer was the license I felt to devour as many books (or comics) as I wanted, sometimes encouraged by library summer reading programs. Forget tag or frisbee; my competitive spirit was best kindled by the challenge of reading as many books as I could during those eight precious weeks of freedom.

Now that I’m an adult, and have more control over my circumstances, I think I’m starting to make peace with summer. I still feel the pressure of “enforced merrymaking” that accompanies the warmer weather, but there are worse things in the world than spending long summer evenings sitting on a café terrace in Paris. Plus, I can now give myself permission to spend the entire day inside, beautiful weather or no, enjoying the comforts of a good book.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (5)

Through the Wringer

My first experience with public laundromats occurred in my early twenties, when I first moved to San Francisco. I had a strangely romantic idea about them at the time, that there was something grittily poetic about airing one’s dirty laundry in the company of strangers. It didn’t take long before I grew tired of the routine: dragging my unmentionables down the block, then sitting vigil over this precious cargo while fending off boredom. I could never bring myself to do the load-and-leave, never trusted that my thrift-store wardrobe was safe from potential thieves looking for the perfect vintage t-shirt (hopelessly faded) or ratty pair of jeans. And so I subjected myself to one of my least favorite activities in the world: waiting around in public alone.

As an introvert, such occasions fill me with dread, as I feel vulnerable to any stranger’s approach, whether friendly or not. Without the buffer of a companion, it is much more likely that someone will try to engage me in conversation, even if I keep my nose firmly planted in a book. And during times of purposeful waiting, when it’s not easy to just get up and go, I feel like a captive audience for whoever wants to demand my attention. I realize that this may sound terribly anti-social, but in my defense, there are times when I am happy to engage in pleasantries with random strangers (granted, these are somewhat rare occurrences). It’s just that there are other times when I would rather have a root canal than a forced conversation.

It’s true that I could make this preference known in a variety of ways, could “tell off” the person trying to chat with me, but such an extreme reaction is not appropriate in most situations. I realized this again recently, when for various reasons I found it necessary to spend time in a laundromat, after avoiding them successfully for many years. As I waited for my clothes to dry, a bewildered-looking elderly woman approached me and began asking me a series of questions in rapid-fire French (which I find hard to parse at the best of times), only a few of which I knew the answer to. I tried to help her as best as I could, stumbling over my verbs and pronouns, but she seemed irked when I couldn’t give her all the info she needed (can you put bleach in this washing machine? I have no idea).

There came a point when she gave up on me–after I failed to understand why she needed me to dial a certain number on her cell phone–and she left me in peace. It was obvious to me that I couldn’t have just “told her off” or ignored her, because, a) she was a nice old lady in need of help, b) she was extremely persistent, and c) I don’t know how to say “I’m sorry but I’d rather just sit here trying to be invisible and not involve myself in your affairs” in French. And also, d) because such annoying/amusing cultural exchanges make for good stories when trying to write blog posts…

But overall, I wish there were some way to signal one’s unwillingness to interact on a given day (a certain piece of headwear, or perhaps a paper bag over one’s face), and an accompanying societal blessing for such a preference. I guess I could always stay at home on those days, and not care that my clothes remain unwashed; no one would have to suffer their filth but me.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (5)

Survey Says Most Prefer Silence in the Air

It turns out I may not be the only one in favor of silencing cell phones if new Wifi services are made available on certain flights in the near future. An online survey conducted across the U.S. by Yahoo! in late April showed that “…74% of respondents said cell phone use on airplanes should be restricted to silent features,” such as email, text messaging, and instant messaging.

Interestingly, the survey also found that “In western parts of the U.S., that number increased to 83% who wanted no talking.” Could this be proof of the laconic tendencies of the stereotypical westerner (the strong, silent type), or of their need for greater personal space than the average American? As a westerner myself, I’m keeping mum on the subject.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (5)

Noise News

I’m not sure if an aversion to excessive noise is a hallmark of the introverted personality, but I do know that few things set me on edge more than exposure to constant, chaotic noise (making the ear-splitting renovation hubbub going on below our apartment for the past few weeks such a joy). It could be this sensitivity that leads me to pay more attention to any mention of noise, or it could be that there is a particular convergence around this issue in the global consciousness, but whatever the case, I’ve found that noise (or the absence of it) has been making the news a lot lately.

First the bad news: the International Herald Tribune reports that the ambient noise level in Cairo has gotten so bad that every conversation on the street must be conducted in screams. As the city grows in population, the din from traffic, public ceremonies, and hawkers struggling to be heard, has resulted in a daytime average noise level of 85 decibels, or “a bit louder than a freight train at a distance of 15 feet, or 4.6 meters.”

Less bad, but still not great: According to some, hybrid and electric cars don’t make sufficient noise to warn pedestrians (especially the visually impaired) of their approach. A bill to address this problem may soon be proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, under the terms of which automakers may one day be required to build vehicles that produce a minimum level of noise. I’m all for strengthening public safety on the roads, but I’d have to see more data about the actual risk before being convinced that this is a good idea. In the meantime, maybe some lawmaker could introduce a bill to reduce the amount of noise cars are allowed to make. I’m sure there’d be a market for those cars in Cairo.

Potentially encouraging: A new movie starring Tim Robbins as an anti-noise vigilante has recently been released in the U.S.. Noise shows the transformation of Robbins’s character from an ordinary New Yorker into the rampaging ‘Rectifier,’ who expresses his frustration with blaring car alarms by destroying the offending vehicles. The movie has gotten mixed reviews; not having seen it I can’t speak for or against it (although I am wary of the glorification of vigilantism), but I would be pleased if it expanded the conversation about the problem of noise pollution in some way.

And finally inspiring news: The phenomenon of silent raves has been around for a few years, but recently it seems to have gained some momentum in the States. A silent rave took place in New York’s Union Square in April, drawing hundreds of participants. And what is a silent rave? It’s similar to an ordinary rave, in that strangers gather to listen to music and dance together, except that at a silent rave, everyone is listening to their own personal dance mix (through headphones, naturally). I love this idea because it combines public partying (which even as an introvert I can get into) with respect for everyone’s space, and bears an interesting resemblance to quiet parties.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (2)

Flying the Unfriendly Skies

A few weeks ago, I read an article in the International Herald Tribune that struck fear into my heart. No, it wasn’t about the economy (well, not directly) or the latest health study crisis, but a more trivial subject that nonetheless makes me shudder to think of it. The headline of the article says it all: EU moves toward allowing in-flight cellphone calls. At first I hoped it was a late April Fool’s Day joke, but no such luck.

In the abstract I can understand why this might be a good idea; if cell phones don’t pose a threat to the functioning of planes (as seems to be the case), then having a means of communication to let family or friends know about delays or other serious issues seems reasonable. The rational part of my brain can accept this idea, but the raging introvert part of me that believes that if any cell phone use is allowed, someone (or more likely, many) will abuse the privilege. I already tend to get grumpy and panicky in-flight when I feel someone is intruding on my personal space, and the thought of someone not only monopolizing the armrest and the overhead bin, but the whole noise level around me, is truly anxiety-provoking.

Maybe I should petition the airlines to create a new category of passenger preferences — not vegetarian or kosher, but “does not fly well with others.” The flight attendants could only communicate with me via hand signals, any passenger who dramatically reclines her seat into my lap without warning will automatically be moved to another part of the plane, and it goes without saying (of course!) that cell phone use would be strictly forbidden within an eight seat radius. Well, a girl can dream. In the absence of these demands being met, I might settle for Joe’s suggestion that inflight callers be confined to a special sound-proof booth in the back of the plane, leaving only loud snorers and upset children to disturb the silence up front.

But that seems unlikely, given how airlines are trying to cram in as many Economy seats as possible (which doesn’t do much for my personal space issue) because of the economic crunch they are facing. In his recent “Ask the Pilot” column on, Patrick Smith bemoans this development, but argues that better design could solve both the airlines’ need for more seats, and the passenger’s need for a private, comfortable space. As an example of this, he mentions a new project that Delta will be inaugurating in 2010. The airline is planning to retrofit some of its fleet with something called the Cozy Suite, a type of seat with a built-in wraparound wall that separates it from the seat beside it, in addition to providing other elements that contribute to passenger comfort (footrest, lumbar cushion, more legroom). You can see photos of the Cozy Suite on the Thompson Solutions Web site.

I agree with Smith that this could be a significant improvement to the inflight experience, and it might even balance out my potential future annoyance with obnoxious cellphone users. Well, on second thought, maybe not. I think I should start looking for someone to build me my own personal (portable) Cone of Silence.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Comments (4)