The recent hoo-hah over the flight ban caused by Eyjafjallajökull makes me wonder. As a kid in the 1970s I remember being told that the future would be a relaxed one of more leisure time, a three or four day work week and the chance to pursue our visions and dreams. The grunt work of keeping the economy going would be done by robots doing our every whim. It all seemed possible then, that the advances in technology would serve us all.
Somewhere along the way we all took a left when we should have taken a right. Why exactly is it that so many of us are working in crap jobs, in hock to the Man for our mortgages and dreams, and we live for two weeks abroad? Two weeks of escape, versus forty weeks of quiet desperation. Where did we sign on for that, how can we get off? In the past it was possible to raise a family with the income from one man’s wage. Now a typical family needs both adults working to service the mortgage. What happened to the promise of a shorter working week? The current two day weekend was only introduced in the 20th century, a change from the old Sunday off pattern for agricultural workers. Imagine the bleating from the ‘business community’ if we tried to take out another day.
I feel for all the poor folk stiffed by Fate this last few days. But isn’t this all a wake-up call, is it really worth packing ourselves like sardines to be abused by so-called low cost airlines for 10 days of escapism which doesn’t always turn out all it’s cracked up to be? Travelling is rarely improved by haste.
What I want is more time, to travel slowly and overland, not have to pack my experience of other worlds into two weeks mandated by the desires of some corporation. I want to taste the food and feel the plains of Europe slowly give way to the mountain ranges, to follow great rivers from the sea to the source. I want to do it over weeks, not hours, and do it well.
Somewhere in the three decades since that dream of a longer weekend was sold me and now, something went wrong. We collectively bought into the false dream that Stuff would give our world meaning, and joined the wild merry-go-round of buying more and more of less and less.
Somewhere in these friendly skies unscarred by the vapour trails there is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way. We’ve done without air travel for a few days. Nobody has died, and all the inconvenience has been because of the unexpected nature of the shutdown. Air travel is nice, but it isn’t essential.
Maybe it’s time to charge it for the external costs it imposes on the rest of us. Tax fuel at the same rate as other transportation. Charge it for the loss of the quiet times and the uglification of our soundscape and our skies. Ban all night flights between 11pm and 6am, so that the Many can get some sleep at the expense of the Few that are in such a damned hurry. Air travel has gotten away with too much for too long, externalising its costs in terms of noise and nastiness. But most of all, perhaps we should ask ourselves why it is that we put up with this enervating haste, for so little return in terms of quality of life? Why are we rushing around so much, if it doesn’t seem to make us happier?