Jim Thompson
Jim Thompson
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

There is a magnet on the refrigerator here in the executive dining room of Jim’s Enterprises that has the Delta Airlines logo and this statement: “I flew on the anniversary of flight! Dec. 17, 2003.”

All humankind heavier-than-air activities can be encapsulated from that date to this one – a mere 116-plus years.

From biplanes in World War I to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II to the landing on the moon in July 1969, to…

There have been two catastrophic events caused by airplanes in this century. The first is 9/11 when some individuals bent on destruction, even at the cost of their own lives, attacked the United States with airplanes.

The second is this winter when airplanes were inadvertently used to spread a hither before unknown virus all over the world.

On a macro scale, these airplanes did a better job of spreading this virus than a hot-air hand dryer does in a public restroom (and that's saying something!).

It was a big move in the early 1960s when they started putting proper anchor plates in automobile floors so that you could add seat belts “if you wanted to.” Of course, most people did not want to do so. Then came seat belts installed in cars. That really didn’t work until they got some teeth behind them (laws) and they got our kids to harassing us parents to wear seat belts. I think this happened around the end of the 1970s.

When we look at airplanes and the damage they have caused, we are about at the equivalent point of automobiles in the early 1960s when they put the anchor plates in the floor. We seem to always be behind the curve.

We didn’t see the necessity for serious security screening until 9/11.

We still have not done anything about infectious people on airplanes (I am critical of our lack of foresight, now that the problem is apparent it will take time to solve). Just like 9/11, our only solution is to take them out of the skies for now.

While we are here, we should be looking at all the plethora of technology that we have developed over the last two centuries, especially the last half-century, in a systematic way to see what helps, what harms and what can be done to mitigate the harm. This is currently done in a haphazard and ad hoc way. It needs to be systemized and codified.

A place that may be ahead of society on this is our Amish and Mennonite friends. I don’t intend to cause a stampede on them, leave them alone, thank you; but I know in some communities (not all) there is a person or a committee that examines new technology.

In these cases, using their own criteria, they determine what could be helpful, what could be harmful and what is in harmony with their principles and practices.

We certainly don’t need another bureaucracy to tell us what we can and can’t have, but we do need some sort of impartial guidance with the ability to think way outside the box as to what adopting a given technology may do to humankind.

Sadly, I can recognize the need, but I am at a loss as to how to reach a solution that saves us from the next seemingly harmless technology that comes down the pike without saddling us with more mindless bureaucracy. Yet, find this solution we must before we create another benign looking gadget (atomic bombs were never benign looking, ones like that are easy to spot) that just may kill us all.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at jthompson@taii.com.