Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Real Snow Crash

Could Snow Crash lead to a plane crash?

That was the principal thought on my mind this morning as I read this piece at about Northwest Flight 188, which overshot its destination airport by a hundred miles or so earlier this year because both pilot and co-pilot were absorbed in their laptop, teaching and learning about the airline's online employee scheduling system.

We've all done it -- driven deistracted. My weakness is the iPod and my insistence that I have to manually shuffle through the good songs on my way home from the bus. A handful of times I've caught myself so engrossed in trying to find TMBG's "Dr. Worm" that I'm not paying attention to the road, which is scrolling right along under my tires at 55 miles per hour. So I put the iPod away.

William Saletan, in his Slate piece, however, brings up an interesting point:

In his interview with investigators, the captain profusely apologized. He said he had "let another force come from the outside and distract me." But that isn't what happened on Flight 188. The force didn't come from outside. It came from inside. It enveloped the pilots' minds and shut down their senses. They lost touch with everything outside: their displays, the world beyond their windshield, the passengers behind the cockpit door.

We're all doing the same thing, zoning out at home, at work, on the road. Maybe all these nifty little devices are great for connecting us to the Internet, but we shouldn't let them disconnect us from the world.

So enters Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. I read this book a few years ago and recommend it for its philosophical implications, not necessarily for the story. Do we want virtual realities so real they take us away from the true reality? Are we so dedicated to the universes squeezed between our ears that we forget about the universe we can see through our eyes and hear through our ears? I hope not. But it's a tempting trap. I'm in front of the computer for about ten hours straight each work day. Then i go home, watch television during dinner most nights, then after the kids are to bed (and most of the time I'm too tired or distracted to read to them) I'm sitting in front of my laptop. Something's gotta stop, folks. Maybe rolling blackouts aren't such a bad idea after all.

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