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Monday, October 22, 2012

Air Lines

Point a camera at the sky and leave the shutter open for a while. Delicate patterns will appear like figure skaters' tracks across a frozen pond. Parallel but distinct. Graceful sweeping turns and slashing straight lines. Staccato dots and solid bold streaks.

According to the National Air Transport Association, a quarter of a million people are airborne at any given time worldwide. It's easy to ignore the ceaseless comings and goings over our heads, but a pause to look reveals the metropolis of motion we've created in the sky. Miles above our heads, every hour of every day, there are families and business people, rich and poor, the hopeful and the disappointed. They're laughing, talking, watching movies, eating, drinking, arguing, embracing, texting, and sleeping, just like those in the cities beneath them.

The evening high-rise worker, busy populating a spreadsheet by the Caravaggio light of a laptop while the custodians bustle past the cubicles, may not notice the jetliner burning past the office window's square of sky. But 35,000 feet above, someone's doing the same, while the flight attendants collect the last of the headphones and plastic cups.

The airlines talk of interconnectedness, of stitching families and businesses closer, of tying the world together. A look into the night sky reveals how literal those notions have become. We cast a net across the world and pull it tight, trying to squeeze the planet down into something smaller and more manageable.

It's easy to decry this endless hurrying to and fro as merely evidence of a global obsession with being somewhere we're not. But I think it's about more than just getting from one dot on the map to the next. Though no one individual dwells in it for more than a a few hours at a time, humanity has built a home in the sky. We've colonized the clouds. Our jetliners, military planes and light aircraft bring commerce, government and recreation up from the world below. Our civilization races over our our heads now as surely as it stands at our feet.

And it's spectacular.

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