Clouds of Unknowing
I’m in the break room writing my notes while my coworker Jorge fiddles with his iPhone.
“Check this shit out,” he says.
I look up from my paperwork. My younger colleagues are very enamored with their smartphones. “What?” I say.
“Siri,” Jorge says. “What planes are flying overhead?”
“You’re kidding me.”
Jorge’s phone beeps and he hands it to me. “Take a look.” Sure enough, the screen displays the flight numbers of all the planes soaring above our heads.
“Ahmed!” I say. “Hand me the Stinger Missile!”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Jorge says.
“Why do we need to know this stuff?”
Jorge shrugs. “It’s out there, man. You can download an app, point your phone at the sky and it’ll tell you the flight number of every plane it sees.”
Richard, one of our nurses from Nigeria, chimes in. “You Americans make too much information available.”
“You think people can track Air Force One using this thing?” Jorge says.
I figure Siri is tapping into a database of information beamed from the passing planes’ flight transponders, similar to the system air traffic controllers use.
“Let’s hope the Air Force is one step ahead of Apple.” I say.
I’m flying out of New York this week. The thought of some Al Qaeda nutjob using his phone to send a warhead into my plane gives me the willies. While not an authority on military hardware, I know super portable missiles like Stingers have a very limited range. A terrorist would have to target a plane as it was taking off or landing and the flights displayed on Jorge’s phone are tens of thousands of feet up. To take them out would require a large and powerful rocket. I hope the cops would notice such a thing being prepped for launch in a parking lot.
“America’s openness makes it a great country,” Richard says. “But it’s also her greatest weakness.”
He’s right to some degree but I say nothing. Too complicated an issue for break room banter. I finish my notes, check on the patients one last time and clock out.
Walking to my car I look up and see the running lights of several planes blinking like rubies against a black velvet sky. Hundreds of people in pressurized tubes using aerodynamics to fight gravity are streaking to destinations unknown.
I could whip out my phone and find out all about them, but I don’t. Part of the fun of looking at airplanes is wondering where they’re going, Paris? Rome? Tahiti? What are the stories of the people on board? Are they excited? International spies? Or just a harried businesswoman stuck between two extra large passengers? Are they drinking champagne in first class or coach passengers bemoaning the lack of free peanuts? Right now a young man might be stroking his first love’s hair as she nestles against his shoulder while the guy behind them types up an idea that’ll lift millions out of poverty. Maybe the woman in seat 5A is a film star reading a script or a ravishing model traveling to a bikini shoot in Maui. If technology tells me I’m dreaming upon a Fed Ex plane delivering Amazon purchases to Albuquerque that would spoil the mood.
I shake my head. We are bombed with too much information. Tonight I crave mystery. There can be joy in hidden things. Hope dwells in clouds of unknowing. Fools may go where angels fear to tread – but sometimes they win.
Forgetting about Al Qaeda and Stingers I get into my car and drive home. Soon I’ll be flying beneath a canopy of stars. You’ll just have to imagine where I’m going.