The chasm between technology’s glittering promise to liberate humans from drudgery and the more commonplace reality of technology rendering us incompetent in our objectives through opaque algorithms or mis-struck keystrokes, is simply too commonplace to deem blog-worthy. We all feel humbled, inconvenienced, misunderstood, and annoyed by technology every day. Some days, we feel it all day. So imagine my surprise—joy is not too great a sentiment—when a recent experience in failed technology blossomed into personal good fortune.
I belong to that long gone epoch of humanity who find satisfaction and security in paper. I print out theater tickets, bicycle maps, and airline boarding passes. I understand, in theory, that these scraps are redundant. My phone preserves all necessary e-documents, and despite my care in recycling, the paper consumed drains our natural resources. Yet I remain attached to the superfluous ‘stuff’ of printed forms.
Recently, upon a visit to Atlanta, I mentioned to my beloved daughter that I was compelled to check in for my return flight and obtain an e-ticket, since my AirBNB did not contain a hard copy printer. Being young, and lacking my affinity to parchment, she laughed that I ever printed such things. Twenty-three hours before flight, I checked in online and followed all prescribed steps until a bright red box proclaimed, ‘Check-in Complete’. Then I let my phone go to sleep.
In the meandering queue at TSA ATL, I awoke my phone to retrieve my electronic boarding pass. Alas: several emails, myriad instructions, yet no actual boarding pass. I shared said phone screen with the TSA officer who, nice as could be, directed me to the Delta ticket counter for the express purpose of obtaining a paper boarding pass. A second gracious agent guided me out of the security area. Most everyone knows that Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is the busiest airport in the world; many fewer acknowledge it to also be the friendliest.
Cinisia, a Delta agent with a big smile, even bigger hair and bewilderment that matched my own, was incredulous that my e-boarding pass shot deep into cyberspace without successfully landing in my phone. She printed me a reliable paper copy, trustworthy as currency, beyond its weight’s worth in gold. Then she added, “The flights to Boston are all delayed; severe weather up that way. I’m going to register you on standby for an earlier flight that’s been delayed.” She handed me my pass and added, “Proceed with all haste to Gate A6 by four o’clock. I am resolute that will welcome you aboard.” Her exact words perhaps mirrored a more contemporary jive, but her meaning was clear.
I relished the joy of a second return trip through the TSA Security maze—not. Yet my snail’s crawl was peppered with an enjoyable encounter with another lovely officer, this one monitoring the bins. “Have you got any food in your backpack?” “Just a Power Bar.” “Only one? We’ll let that slide.” “You can have it if you’re hungry.” “No thanks, I’ve got a salad waiting for me.” “You eat better than I do.” Officer Jacinta smiled and waved me through. I arrived at Gate A6 even as my deadline loomed. The efficient Delta team directed me to one of the few remaining seats on the delayed flight, held in my name. All hail Cinisia! She reserved for me a window seat of my own.
Our amply crowded plane grumbled away from the gate and loitered on the ground while the captain explained the intricacies of Air Traffic Control flight allotments. We sat; buckled into our metal tube baking on the sunny tarmac, warm as fresh bread, stinky as aged Stilton. Shared distress bonds the common folk in economy class. Each shared his personal tale of woe and delay. Except me, who had suffered no delay he could heartily relay. All found comfort in cursing circumstance beyond control. Except me, who was running ahead of schedule and is too well-bred to gloat.
We took off in a mighty tail wind. I nestled into Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, an author of infectious language. Boston came fast upon us, before poor Tom, hindered by the eighteenth century limitations of muddy roads and wobbly carriages, had reached even halfway to Brighton. Our weary band of travellers descended through sunbeams slanting against candy cotton clouds. Light refracted in fantastic colors until it gave way to a sordid, solid grey mass beneath. High winds, scattered showers, nature’s cruelty spit upon New England’s drab spring. What horrific sins these Puritans must have committed to deserve such fury. The pilot guides our fuselage out of aerial danger. The assembled applauded the captain’s tricky landing; relieved all, to finally arrive.
Instantly, everyone fingered their phones, texted their loved ones. They were all running late, but at least they were safe. Expectations and plans got jimmied accordingly. I sat alone in my contentment, having arrived at my destination an hour early; thanks to the necessity of a boarding pass printed upon paper.