There are many great things that the advancement of mobile technology has given us over the years since we inherited a stocky old brick of a Sony Ericsson from our sister via our late uncle, the same phone that had survived an unfortunate baptism in a bucket of undiluted bleach.
Over the last two decades, we have evolved from the ability to play Snake and compose a near perfect set of monophonic bleeps to sound like the chorus of ‘Kiss Kiss’ by Holly Valance, to being able to take actual photos and actual videos, shop online, listen to music, watch videos of gorrilas dancing to Flashdance (seriously, you have not lived) all the way through to well, writing for this actual here corner of the web.
But perhaps my greatest and most utilised discovery in recent years is one that I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know existed until I flew on a plane for the first time, and yet is as old as when phones were tin cans with strings. Now forgive my ignorance of five years ago here a trifle, but I’ll set the scene. It is July 2016, and I am flying off to Ireland for the first time – to Cork, specifically – for a long weekend with good friends of mine, taking in a brilliant annual festival called Live at the Marquee.
I’ve checked in. I’m highly polite, almost manically apologetic to everyone I meet, because anxious in new situation and because British. I’ve just experienced the terrifying ordeal that is Customs for the first time (please tell me this isn’t just me), feeling immediately guilty on entry and on their conveyor belt’s forensic search of my carry on bag, despite knowing full well that I haven’t accidentally packed knives or an ornate Egyptian totem lined with cocaine with a street value of £3k in there. I’ve got a bit flustered at having to pick it up shoeless and beltless whilst waiting for my shoes and belt that I had to take off to go through the scanner to appear on the other conveyor belt.
I’ve experienced the liberated yet trippy bliss of Duty Free, sort of a halfway house between a bus station and a condensed version of Lakeside Shopping Centre on steroids, all perfume counters, silk pashminas that cost as much as a month’s salary, Dan Brown novels, Toblerone bars and – praise be – a Garfunkel’s all day breakfast. I’ve sweated a tad whilst completing the surprisingly marathon trek to my Departure Gate. I’ve breathed a sigh of relief that my carry on bag fits perfectly in the little what-I-call measuring rack of doom to judge whether it can go in the overhead locker or not.
I’m now on the plane, feeling a mixture of excited and terrified. I immediately feel a tinge of my paternal Celtic bloodline protecting me and guiding me on this new adventure when the captain announces he has the same name as my (other) late uncle. I’m making a mental note to myself to ensure I take a picture of the bronze statue of Jack Charlton in the Arrivals Gate at Cork that Dad asked me to take for him.
It’s all quite lovely, and I’m just about to happily pop my headphones on and lose myself in a good book and Coldplay on Spotify ahead of take off, and then there’s the half bored, half agitated announcement in a voice vaguely reminiscent of the biggest lingerie department scene in Father Ted: ‘Could we please remind all passengers to put their electronic devices onto Airplane Mode before and during the flight’.
I look quizzically at the passenger next to me. Poor thing, they’re thinking. Obviously a virgin at all of this. And suddenly the ball drops: the little icon of a plane that I frequently see on the swipe down menu when trying to increase screen brightness / ringtone volume, and yet never activate. Not out of choice certainly. And just like that, with the press of a button, my phone is disconnected from the world at large for my hour’s flight across the Irish Sea. And yet I can listen to Chris Martin singing ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ and read my copy of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency without any trouble whilst flying through the actual clouds, my only worry being whether or not my suitcase will reappear at Baggage Reclaim (again, please tell me this is not just me).
I’ll not beat around the bush here: this was precisely the moment at which I was converted. For there are so many other amazing uses for Airplane Mode outside of flying in an actual plane. Firstly, it literally shuts the world up. Now don’t get me wrong; especially after this last year when we have relied on our phones more than ever, most of the time we need connection with our normal world, however far away it is in physicality.
But sometimes we also need distance, a break from mindless scrolling, passive engagement, trolls and boredom with the endless selfies and and sponsored ads trying to entice us into buying a pair of Ugg boots/jeggings/keyring that also breaks into the vault at The National Gallery. We have basically pressed the telecommunicative form of the Mute button on the TV remote (of which I could go into the pros of another time, but must stay on topic).
Secondly, it cuts out distraction without actually switching your phone off. Switching your phone off runs the hyperventilative risk and fear of wondering if you’ve actually lost it despite it being in your bedside drawer the whole time. Airplane Mode? Switching it on means you can write that marketing report/read that new novel/listen to your new favourite podcast/watch a rerun of Friends in peace, knowing your phone is there, but effectively it’s gone down for an afternoon/evening nap rather than holed up presumed missing in a neighbour’s garage. You won’t need to put feebly sellotaped posters up around the local park that in a month’s time will be battered by the elements, yellowing and moist with condensation whilst everyone walks past them thinking ‘Oh, poor sod. He should have got the Lookout app’.
Thirdly – and this is quite a revelatory one – putting it on saves battery. It really does. Especially if it’s been a couple of hours since it was last on charge and you’re down to 56%. Whack Airplane Mode on, plug in to your charger, and in the length of time it takes to listen to Kylie Minogue’s most recent album (just not off your Spotify app on your phone, mind, that would just defeat the whole object of the exercise), your batteries are quite literally recharged.
But last and most importantly of all – using it fixes literally any funny five minutes or tantrum your phone decides to have. Lost signal? Instagram keeps crashing? Met Office weather app not updated since 9th May last year? It’s chill. You send it to Airplane Mode for 10 minutes – hell, even a week – and you put your phone on the mobile equivalent of the naughty step until they’ve calmed down and had a ‘Time Out’ to think about what they’ve done. It quite simply lets your phone know who’s boss.
And this my friends, is why Airplane Mode remains the single greatest – and necessary – function of any phone I’ve had past or present. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read a new Mel Giedroyc novel, wash my hair and face plant a box of Cappucino Lindt Lindor undisturbed so *activates Airplane Mode*