THE BLOG
03/14/2014 11:10 am ET Updated May 14, 2014

Lost in (Air)Space

In this day and age, how do you lose a Boeing 777? That seems to be the question on people's minds. There's an unspoken assumption that, with technology, we should know where things are. After all, we can pinpoint license plate numbers from space. We can track our kids through their cell phones. We can view streets and houses and backyards across the world. We're supposed to know where things are. The headline from an ExtremeTech piece asks: "How on earth, with all our technology, do we lose a giant plane?"

This story is more than just losing a giant plane; this story is turning into dismay that, after having lost it in the first place, we seem unable to find it days later. A CNN article started this way: "More than four days since Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over Southeast Asia, Malaysian officials not only don't know what happened to the plane, they don't seem sure where to look." In this digitized, connected world, how could four days go by and produce more confusion? Sure, inexplicable things happen, but we expect to have answers at least by morning. That hasn't happened so far. That's not the way technology is supposed to work and, because something we've come to rely on so heavily doesn't seem to be working, people are unnerved.

In all of the reporting about the Malaysian airliner, Air France flight 447 is being remembered from 2009. The search for that lost Airbus A330 took five days to locate a small debris field in the ocean, pointing to its crash. Uncovering the actual wreckage on the ocean floor took another two years because of the terrain and some months after that to determine the actual cause of the crash, which turned out tragically to be pilot error.

Reading about the 2009 Air France flight again, five days in that case didn't really seem like a very long time in retrospect. So why does five days seem like far too long this time? I think partially because we're in the midst of those five days, and are unable to view things in retrospect. And, in those five years since flight 447, our reliance on technology and the sense of control that technology brings has gotten, in my mind, even stronger. Technology, even in five years, has moved our expectations forward. We expect to have answers quickly and, apparently, are increasingly unnerved when those answers are not forthcoming. Simply put, technology appears to have complicated our ability to wait.

But technology, powerful as it is, has the ability to both complicate and enhance. Technology warps our perceptions of fast and slow and makes it harder to wait; but technology also has a positive side, which I also suspect is at play in our frustration with the pace of finding this plane and learning what has happened to its passengers and crew.

In 2009, it was an Airbus that went down. This time, it's a Boeing 777, which was made just north of me at Boeing's plant in Everett, Washington. Maybe I'm more impacted this time around because I have neighbors and friends who work for Boeing. They take this missing jetliner personally. They take it personally whenever one of their planes malfunctions or crashes. They express a felt-connection between the planes they make and the people who fly in them. Maybe this time, this airliner, has hit us a bit more deeply, because technology has enhanced our sense of felt-connection. In the past five years, perhaps we've developed more of a global feel as technology continues to connect the world closer together. ExtremeTech asked, "How on earth, with all our technology, do we lose a giant plane?" The pronouns used in that headline point to this felt-connection. There is no "they," instead we relate to the story through "we." That plane, wherever it is, has become "ours."