Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The World Has Changed

I've been reading with interest and growing horror the whole TSA backscatter X-ray machine thing and its evil twin sister, the opt-out groping pat down. The spate of reports emerging from people who are abused by the TSA for dissenting--and worse, not even dissenting, just opting-out, is disturbing. There are stories of people being arrested, being harassed for asking questions, and being detained. Stories of people being groped. Stories of threats and lawsuits and fines if we don't submit to it.

I'll just say here: I'm pregnant and I don't believe that the full scan machines are safe for my unborn baby. Nor do I feel they're safe for my son, who is four. I don't have a problem being patted down, but my son isn't going to be touched in his groin by strangers. (Note that the TSA has said that children under 12 don't have to submit to this; I heard this on NPR and a spokesperson from the TSA admitted they had "not communicated this to the public very well." WHATEVS.) My OB agrees that the backscatter Xray machine is a no-go for me, which says a lot.

So I'm watching and waiting, and we have chosen not to fly until a solution is found that doesn't involve being groped or put in harm's way. I believe that solution will come, because most people flying today know flying security is now a part of our lives thanks to September 11, but that we won't stand for being groped or harassed or subjected to harmful x-rays. I'm a veteran flier, and maybe it's real easy for me to say I won't fly because I don't have much cause to right now and also because I have a baby coming that will allow me to stay grounded for some time. But come next October, I'm probably going to have to fly for work. And what if something horrid happens to a family member far away? What, am I going to drive across the country?

The world has really changed, hasn't it?

As writers, there's no way to predict what will change. Reading stories with airport travel the old way (no security, no hassle) is quaint now. Likewise, if stories don't mention air travel security (instead, something like "I breezed through to the gate from the ticket counter and boarded the plane. I plopped down in my seat and put my head back, ready to snooze the journey away.") then I'm sitting there going, Yeah, right. It's unpleasant from start to finish.

This is a minor point, but I always find it amusing when I read stories that feature some aspect of air travel and it's all peachy. I find airport security and other flying malarkey like cattle-call lines, the failure to feed or entertain me on long flights, and the unsettling fact that there are no airbags on the flight because airlines don't want to spend room or money putting them in, even though they've been shown to save lives, too unpleasant to even think about. So I don't like to spend time mentioning those details in my stories.

Thoughts? What else dates a story, and how do you feel about using modern references that could reflect our culture's point in time?

Note: after I published this post I found the picture of the above toy set with security--thinking they didn't make any such thing. Scary. That's a Playmobil set, though, not Fisherprice Playskool.

P.S. I am super sorry if you are taking off to go fly somewhere for Thanksgiving.

P.P.S. Happy Thanksgiving, loverlies!


DL Hammons said...

The world has changed a lot, this year especially. I met you!


Lt. Cccyxx said...

I was actually thinking of doing a post on this too, because it's such a good illustration of what happens when policymakers don't assess risks smartly, when the government does a terrible job communicating to the public, and when people demand policies that make no sense (like zero level of profiling of the flying public) and then wonder why grannies and babies are getting wanded. I didn't have time, but it's cool you decided to hit the same issue. I am very glad NOT to be traveling this holiday.

To your other question, it's a huge issue and - among other things - I think mobile technology makes a huge difference to stories. The NY Times had a piece all about this that's worth reading. Check it out:

I set my novel in the 1990s in part because just adding in cell phones and blackberries would have pretty much ruined my plot!

Linda G. said...

Amen to everything you said about the TSA. I can only add that if the TSA is so inept at "getting the message out" that the under-12 crowd doesn't have to submit to the procedures, why on earth should we have confidence in ANYTHING they say or do?

Roni Loren said...

This is stressing me out too. I refuse to expose myself or my family to unnecessary radiation. That's crazy. And my husband flies weekly, so he definitely doesn't need to be getting x-rayed that much. We just traveled a few weeks ago and the airport we went through had the x ray machine but wasn't using it that day, so it worked out. But we're traveling again soon and I'm already annoyed about it. We'll opt out and suffer through the pat downs, but I'm glad u told me about the kids under 12 thing because I'll definitely make sure the 3-yr old isn't subjected to that.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Don -- awww, that's so sweet. Likewise, sir! We need to catch up on where we are with novels.

Lt.-- I would still enjoy a post from you on this because you would look at precisely the policymakers and the big picture. Cell phones are an interesting point and I find they have infiltrated my stories. No longer do characters pick up a telephone in their homes. Instead they whip out a cell or text people. It's annoying but real.


Roni, please double check the under 12 rule to make sure they're still honoring that. Just because a guy said it on NPR doesn't mean that's the real case with the TSA and as we know, they set their rules rather arbitrarily. My doctor is pretty okay with a lot of drugs during pregnancy (surprisingly) but he was pretty much against the backscatter one. The level of radiation in those things worries me a lot.

This morning my whippersnapper was playing with his Playskool Airport and it's funny. I was thinking about this post and how that airport had clearly been designed in like 1979 cause there's NO security in it, LOL. Not like you want your kids playing Airport Terrorist, but the Playskool set is shockingly lax. I wonder if they'll update it for 2010 with a scanner and a mean looking TSA agent waiting to abuse you. Maybe give him a stick or something to beat the passengers with.

Travener said...

I remember flying as a kid when people still got dressed up for it. I flew often to and from college without ever going through so much as a metal detector. Then people started hijacking planes to Cuba and there were metal detectors. Then Palestinians and German terrorists started hijacking planes to the desert. Then all the rest. In the meantime the airlines got deregulated and started making flying the oh-so-enjoyable experience it is today. I hate flying today. I won't do it unless I have absolutely no choice. If I ever go off to Europe again, I'm seriously going to look for passage on a ship.

Happy Thanksgiving, sweetie!

demery bader-saye said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Sierra!

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