Planes, phones and real conversation

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I just got back from a few days in Minnesota and, as you’re reading this, I’m in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for my niece’s wedding. Then a week after that we hop on a plane again to head to our daughter’s wedding in Alaska.

All of this time in airports and on planes has led me to contemplate air travel and all of its idiosyncrasies. There seem to be certain rules as we’re herded like cattle to those far-flung gates. If you’re flying to places like Fargo, North Dakota, and Rhinelander, Wisconsin, your gate is always miles away.

One of those unspoken rules as we navigate air travel is that passengers generally don’t strike up conversations with one another. You might make eye contact to get to your seat, but then you pretend to be oblivious to whatever person is sitting next to you. On my flight to Fargo I was pleasantly surprised when a guy in his early 30s went out of his way to strike up a conversation with me.

This is kind of unusual, I thought, but I obliged his questions, and began quizzing him about why he was headed to North Dakota. Turns out we were both going to see our mothers and families. This red-headed North Dakota native (I never got even a first name) said he did contracted information technology work all over the country for big hospital systems. Yet I noticed he was using an old-fashioned flip phone, a dinosaur in the cellphone world.

“I gotta ask,” I told him. “What’s an IT guy doing with a flip phone?”

He said his more modern phone broke a few months ago and he was still using his flip phone because he kind of liked not being drawn to his phone 24/7. We both lamented a society that now has nearly everyone glued to their phones even in settings where they’re supposed to be interacting with family and friends.

As our conversation unfolded somewhere over South Dakota, he told me he was renovating an older home in Phoenix and had a few photos on his old phone to show me.

“It looks kind of Frank Lloyd Wright-ish,” I said.

Then I learned his home was designed by a guy who had worked under the famous architect. Of course I shared the information about Whitefish losing its beloved Frank Lloyd Wright Building to a developer who tore it down to build a massive mixed-use building.

We talked about all kinds of things and the time flew by. As we landed in Fargo, we wished each other well and went our separate ways. I had a good feeling, like I had done something more productive with my flying time.

Conversation should be normal and not so unexpected. But the sad truth is that it has all but dried up in this digital age, particularly among younger generations. For all of our digital connectedness, there’s nothing like talking face to face.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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