Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kuya's Philippine Journals: Social Autism At It's Finest

Somewhere along the line, I read my new favorite term. Social autism. I define social autism as the lack of awareness of one’s surroundings or the needs of others in your immediate vicinity. Airports and airlines are full of social autism.

I don’t know how many times I have flown in my life but I have logged a lot of hours in an airline seat, perhaps more than most. Every flight the message has always been the same. Please stay in your seats until the plane has come to a complete stop and the pilot has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign. Yet I have never seen that happen once. On the flight into Narita, Japan on the way to Manila, I counted at least thirty people in the tail section of the plane alone, including redneck man, dragging luggage out of the overhead storage bins while the plane was still moving. It was so bad, that the pilot had to stop the plane and wait five minutes before the attendants got everyone seated again, all the bags restowed and all the overheads closed again before proceeding. I don’t know about other people but on every flight I have been on, you get out from front to back and if you stay seated right until the row in front of you starts making your way off the plane, it doesn’t take you any longer and likewise, rushing to get your bags before the plane is stopped or even after it is stopped gets you off no sooner. All you do is make it harder for others to get their bags around you and in the case of the Narita flight, delay the entire thing. Social autism.

Waiting in terminals for the boarding call, you know when it is getting close when people start jockeying for some floor place right next to the ticket agent in front of the gate. The gate agent will eventually start by giving the boarding announcement for those sitting in the rear of the plane and hordes of people immediately cram forward trying to get on the plane even though they sit in the middle or even near the front. I know this by seeing how many people are clogging up the aisles near the front of the plane when those of us in chattel class way in the back are waiting to shuffle back to our seats. They slow down the entire boarding process. Social autism.

In Narita, the agent announced that boarding for rows 60 through 68 would now begin and the normal rush forward began. But unlike normal procedure of disregarding the seat numbers and allowing anybody with a ticket on in any order, the ticketing agents diligently checked each number and told those with lower numbers to please return to their seats until their numbers were called. Bummed? Sure they were but discouraged but they certainly weren't giving up. Instead of going to their seats, the rejected people simple stepped to the side. But the shear number of people stepping to the side congested the entire works up like a mid-winter cold does to sinuses until those with the proper seat numbers couldn’t even step forward to get to the ticketing agent or the plane. Why the hurry to get to a seat where you will be sitting for the next fifteen hours? My wife and I had seat numbers in row 62 and were stuck in this throng of people with room to move neither forward or back for over twenty minutes as the ticketing agents repeatedly asked those with lower numbers to please move back from the gate and take seats until their numbers were called. It never happened but eventually we and those with seats in row 60 and beyond were able to squeeze by and get onto the plane. It was pleasant to walk clear to the back of the plane without having to wait on those sitting up front to clear the aisle but their behavior in boarding really slowed up the process. Social autism.

Every flight always ends the same way as the final descent begins. Please shut off and stow all electronic equipment, place your luggage in the overhead compartments, place your trays and seats in the upright position and remained sitting until the pilot has turned off the seatbelt sign. Yet every flight, the attendants had to go through the cabin asking fully a third of the people to turn off various electronic equipment and move their seats and trays to upright positions. I saw one flight attendant have get up and hurriedly tell a man to return to his seat as he made his way to the bathroom when we were literally less than a minute from landing. Social autism.

Every since 9/11, going through juiced up metal detectors at all the security checkpoints means removing every piece of metal on your body and even your shoes. Yet people still insist on wearing so much jewelry and hiding metal objects in various pockets hidden on their person. One lady even wore these laced up boots that took her probably five minutes just to get one back on again. While I am standing in line waiting my turn, I remove all metal objects and place them in my carry on bag so when I get up there all I have to do is send the bag through and place my shoes in the tub and I’m through. In contrast, I got behind one large black man with more bling bling than you can shake a stick at and the security woman had to ask him three times to remove such things as coins, watches, and large necklaces off, each time causing him to sigh and walk back from the metal detector to place the offending object in the basket. At this point, he still hadn’t walked through the detector once. When he did, he faced the wand when he set off the detector due to more forgotten bling bling. He was still getting a pat down as I made my way towards the next gate. I wonder if all that personal statement was worth the delays. Social autism.

Since I became attuned to the words social autism, I see it everywhere and it is discouraging. It seems to be communicable and spreading like wildfire. We as a society are becoming more engrossed about ourselves and tuning out those around us. It is becoming all me, me, me and nothing about those around you. I find it truly sad.

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