A few years ago, I was on a flight from Denver to Washington, DC. The pilot backed the plane out of the gate and then stopped for a really long time on the tarmac. A while later, the plane started moving, but headed back to the gate. The pilot apologized to the passengers for the delay and announced that they had discovered a hydraulic fluid leak. The plane was not going anywhere until it was fixed.
I sat there at the back of the plane thinking I really did not need this information. I was perfectly fine not knowing that there was a hydraulic fluid leak. What happened to the good old "there's a mechanical problem and we're looking at it"?
The mechanics looked over the plane, we were told that the problem was fixed and the plane took off for DC. But as far as I was concerned, the flight was ruined. I had visions of the plane leaving a trail of fluid over the Rockies and, not really knowing what hydraulic fluid does for or to a plane, imagined the worst.
I'm still not sure what the pilot was trying to achieve, but that was just too much information. In this case, it was not a good thing.
Now just imagine what it must be like to be on a plane, to know that there is a problem with it - a problem big enough to require an emergency landing - to have to sit tight in your seats for two whole hours as the plane circles over an ocean dumping most of its fuel to prepare for that emergency landing, and, worst of all, to watch live coverage of your plane going through these emergency procedures on TV sets that the airline so helpfully provided on every seat on the plane.
Just too much.
I had felt miserable for those passengers on Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania on 9/11. They knew they were flying to their deaths and had called their loved ones on cell phones to tell them that.
I feel equally bad for those passengers on the JetBlue flight from Burbank to New York, who, with their worst fears staring them right in their faces, recorded farewell messages to loved ones and final wishes on their mobile phones.
A case of too much technology enabling dissemination of too much information, but not making anyone's life easier.
Read the Guardian comment here, and the msnbc.com story here.