I’ll start by writing up front that I have compassion for the loved ones and friends of those apparently killed on Malaysia Flight 370. I’ve lost comrades in military plane crashes, so I have a sense of their loss. I can empathize a little with what they’re feeling. Although not knowing exactly what happened to the passengers of Flight MH370 adds a dimension to this mystery, I have not experienced and therefore admit I cannot feel. At least I cannot feel it in the same way as the loved ones of those on the plane.
But, oh, how smug we are. And impatient. We have come to believe we have all the answers — that we know it all or should know it all. That we’re completely in control. And that we should have the answers whenever we want them at the click of our fingers.
We have satellites and air traffic control and radar and radios and computers. We have the National Security Agency that can allegedly track a single cell phone half way around the world. Our world has, at least apparently, become so small and so well understood and is so connected and monitored, how could we possibly “lose” a jet airliner?
I understand there may be something lost in the translation from Mandarin Chinese to English. Nonetheless, loved ones of passengers are, according to several media outlets, “demanding the return of our relatives, no strings attached” — as if human authorities dealing with this tragedy are manipulating events like a puppet is manipulated on a string. Do the grieving really believe the power exists on earth to return their relatives? I understand the need for closure, but how smug can we be?
The news media isn’t helping. It seems as if every one of the scores of times in the last several weeks a soda can is spotted by a satellite floating in the 28,400,000 square-mile Indian Ocean the news media screams that possible debris has been spotted. None of these false reports has panned out.
The story of the boy who cried wolf, an old story likely unheard by a majority of the millennial-aged and foreign news reporters, applies here. The news media keeping their mouths closed until there is real news would help the families. But doing so doesn’t sell Ginsu knives.
We’re so smug. We humans have even incredulously claimed recently that we’ve heard the sound of the so-called Big Bang, the theory of how our universe was created some 13.798±0.037 billion years ago, by listening to signals collected by satellites. In what’s being called “an extraordinary breakthrough,” scientists, including University of Washington Physicist John Cramer, claim to have listened to sounds emitted from the Big Bang. If we really can hear infinitesimally small signals trillions of miles away from the Big Bang multi-billions of years ago, why can’t we find a jet airliner that crashed in water a couple miles deep in a few hundred thousand square-mile search area three weeks ago?
Why do we think we ought to be able to find this Malaysia jet liner lickity split? Because we think we have all the answers. We don’t believe there are or should be mysteries anymore. Google Malaysia Flight 370 and you get 143 million hits as of the day I’m writing this column, 143 million and growing by the minute. It could take years to find the Boeing 777 aircraft in the vast Indian Ocean where it is presumed to have gone down. By then there could be billions of hits.
It is this vast amount of information available at the click (or rather tap) of our fingers that leads us to the illogical conclusion that we have all the answers — or that we should have the answers and have them right now. But there are still mysteries. It can take years to solve them — if ever. We don’t have as much control as we like to think.
We’re smug. But in fact we shouldn’t be. Emilia Earhart’s plane has never been found. It may never be.
We’re reminded by CBS This Morning contributor and City University of New York physics professor Michio Kaku that it took 70 years to locate the Titanic after it sank. Regarding Flight MH370, “The Indian Ocean is a black hole with regards to radar. It’s like finding a needle in 10,000 haystacks. There is a chance we may never find the wreckage,” he says.
We don’t have all the answers and hopefully never will. With due consideration to the loved ones of those lost on Flight MH370, we should quit being so smug. And so impatient.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.