The internet is a wonderful invention, if we can call it that. The ease of online booking has revolutionised our travel. Surely we all now celebrate the stress free electronic ticket, no longer suffering the uncertainties of an ill trained, uncaring human operator taking our precious travel arrangements in hand. We are in control. We can now spend many hours searching through endless flight databases and at the click of a button, sorry several buttons if we can actually find them on the page, concoct our own convoluted global navigation. We are then left to fritter away the remaining light of the day completing the endless check boxes of our electronic booking form with repetitive data that we have filled in a thousand times before. Our reward for such patience? The adrenaline rush of the casino-like payment screen where we cross fingers against a frozen page, the dreaded double-click/double-payment and the inevitable, or so it seems, experience of a server error or system crash. These are moments to savour. Watching with e-bay-like auction fever as the last few seats on our selected journey disappear in the knowledge that we are gambling within our chosen airline's escalating pricing system. This is a system that penalizes heavily for not being game enough to pre-book ahead of the pre-booking crowd. So here we are - the era of pre-booking - a socio-technological revolution bought to us by the internet. We pre-book our flight and if we are lucky and quick enough we can snaffle the seats with extra legroom, pay for priority boarding, and rest smugly in the knowledge that we will be at the front of the queue - pre-booking heaven. But only of course if we have remembered to pre-book our taxi to get to the airport on time.
So all is well. We have pre-booked each detailed minute from our leaving to our arrival and beyond. Our pre-booked rental car will transport us to our unique and boutique pre-booked hotel from where we will enjoy fully our pre-booked holiday experience. Hang on a minute, this all seems so painless. The shock of disruption then, to these plans, to us as the architects of our own destiny - an illusion perpetuated under the guise of choice - can be painful.
‘Sorry Sir. Have you pre-booked the in-airport emergency help transport?’
Oh dear, a terrible oversight! We have not pre-booked help to reach the departure gate from security check-in. Pregnancy and back pain combine cripplingly, both unplanned, to make the necessary 20 minute schlep to an outer satellite of what feels like another universe impossible ... well possible ... but only to wave goodbye to our departing jet, heading off without us and our wonderful pre-booked holiday.
I am not one to believe in technological determinism, or indeed social determinism, as I tend to waver somewhat precariously around the negotiability of technologies. So imagine my surprise at finding myself entertaining the thought that Marshall Mcluhan might actually be right with his broad declaration that technology changes the way we act, think and feel - 'the medium is the message'. These thoughts arrived at the ungodly hour of 5.30am while addressing the blank, helpless faces in the liminal space that is Gatwick airport - a frustrated sense of technological determinism creeping in through the back door. The flight was in fact not missed yet the non-negotiability of the above situation and the reality versus the rhetoric of do-it-yourself booking and the potential freedoms we are sold were starkly exposed. Locked into a system of shifted responsibilities that on the surface celebrate individual choice with what is in fact limited ownership we find not the utopian ideal of self-determination but rather a strait-jacket that squeezes out the most fundamental choice of all and that is to be undetermined, last minute, serendipitous, open to adventure and aware of ourselves and others around us.