Are we placing laptops before lives?

A few days ago, as I was flipping through channels on a dull Wednesday afternoon, the dramatic footage of an aircraft bursting into flames, suddenly caught my eye. “Emirates plane explodes after crash landing in Dubai,” read the breaking news. I stopped surfing and continued to watch with horrified fascination, as more visuals of a burning airplane appeared on screen, dark plumes of smoke billowing from it.  

The Dubai bound flight had taken off from Kochi with 300 passengers on board, and just as I was beginning to fear the worst, the next ticker reassured me: “All passengers and crew are safe”. Incredibly, everyone on board had been successfully evacuated, seconds before the plane burst into flames!

I speculated whether it could’ve been a terrorist attack, but it wasn’t. Apparently the pilot wanted to do a “go around” – a procedure where the plane regains height and makes a second attempt at landing. As fate would have it, one of the aircraft’s engines broke away during the maneuver.

Apart from the cause of the accident, I also wondered if all of the passengers were Indians; how the incident would impact other flights that day; and whether Air India was better than Emirates, after all.

But the most important question on my mind was this: “Did everyone manage to retrieve their laptops and mobiles before exiting?” That was my very first thought soon as I learned that all passengers were safe.   

I got the answer 2 days later, when a video clip emerged — of how the passengers had risked their lives, wasted crucial seconds, trying to grab their belongings especially their mobiles and laptops, despite urgent pleas from the crew to leave everything and jump through the escape chutes.

I knew, that that is exactly how I too would’ve behaved — risked my own as well as fellow passengers’ lives, trying to grab my laptop from the overhead locker, while firmly clasping my cellphone!

They say that when death is close at hand, people think of their lives and of what matters to them the most. Last thoughts are usually of loved ones and regrets about how this love should’ve been expressed while there was still time.

I mulled over what my thoughts would’ve been as my plane crash landed, if I were a passenger on that particular Emirates flight. Regret that I hadn’t yet instagrammed my in-flight selfie? Or that I hadn’t updated my latest “Off to Dubai” status on FB? And all because the unsympathetic air-hostess had forced me to switch off my mobile before take-off and now kept shouting at me to forget my phone and jump out to safety.

They say life is a journey and one must travel to find oneself. But in this quest are we truly at home only in the company of our laptops and phones?

I’ve always dismissed write-ups about how technology is further distancing us as hogwash and its so-called ‘harmful effects’ as totally exaggerated. It isn’t a drug for God’s sake.

But why then are we so addicted to our gadgets, that we are ready to place laptops before lives? When did our phones become an extension of ourselves, attached to us with umbilical cords? My greatest fear used to be death, now it is being parted from my cell phone…and I don’t even play Pokemon Go!