Learning to Fly and the Convenience Culture

By Scott Spangler on February 26th, 2018

ltf sign“Convenience,” wrote Tim Wu in The Tyranny of Convenience, “more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks—has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies.” From a passenger’s perspective, aviation is all about convenience, especially when compared to long distance journeys on foot or by school bus. But learning to fly, becoming a pilot, is anything but convenient.

As Wu suggested, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but it gives new context to an individual’s aspiration of pilothood.

Those who have seen their training through to certification know that learning to fly is inconvenient. It demands a serious commitment and investment of time and money. To attract more newcomers, many in aviation have endeavored to make the process less arduous.

When it comes to manned flight, this is probably a self-defeating effort. “Convenience,” wrote Wu, “has the ability to make other options unthinkable.” Nothing a flight school does will equal another more convenient aviation experience that is now enjoying robust growth: drones.

1612f_ten_01_16x9Yes, I can now hear you thinking, but flying an airplane and flying a drone are not equal. And I would not argue with you. But which pursuit is more convenient? A good preflight inspection often last longer than a drone’s battery, but that seems a perfect match for today’s average attention span.

Before you answer this, consider all of the conveniences you have accumulated over the years and decades to make your life “easier” and “more fulfilled.” And be honest, like Wu: “Convenience seems to make our decisions for us, trumping what we like to imagine are our true preferences. (I prefer to brew my own coffee, but Starbucks instant is so convenient I hardly ever do what I ‘prefer.”) Easy is better, easiest is best.”

But there is a dark side to convenience, Wu writes. “With its promise of smoother, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sorts of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way enslave us.”

Pursuing inconvenience at every turn to give life meaning would just be silly. Washing clothes by beating them on a rock down by the river would be more meaning than any one life would deserve, especially during a Wisconsin winter.

helmet gogglesOur culture of convenience “fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience,” Wu said. “Convenience is all destination and no journey.” For those looking for a rewarding journey that guarantees the struggles and challenges that give meaning to life, learning to fly is perfect.

Accepting this might be an effective marketing challenge for those seeking aviation newcomers. Make that newcomers who want to fly for fun. Those seeking a flying career are driven by other motivations. Perhaps our predecessors, who described flying for fun in post-World War II America as a hobby, were onto something.

“Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such,” Wu said. “As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices” We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions.” Perhaps you yourself have used one of these words to explain why you fly.

Investing the time and money in learning to fly is rarely discussed with newcomers beyond the transportive convenience it provides once achieved. Wu wasn’t talking about flying, but he could have been. “Such activities take time, but they also give us time back. They expose us to the risk of frustration and failure, but they also can teach us something about the world and our place in it.”

Or above it. Rather than promoting the future convenience of learning to fly, why not focus on “the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest.”

Couch this outreaching challenge in a way that will tickle the interest of people who want to stand apart, to be noticed (and that includes just about everyone in the realm of selfie social media). Learning to fly is, perhaps, the north star in “the constellation of inconvenient choices [that] may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.”

super heroIt is certainly worth considering because those who fly for fun, for recreation, are the the economic foundation of general aviation, just as the middle class is for the American economy. Adapting the marketing messages to keep pace with the cultural changes and interests is essential for its survival, and one message does not interest all comers. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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