Flight 370 and the Globalised World: The Return of Mystery

Arguably, the whereabouts of Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing is the biggest mystery of our lifetime. It is such a gigantic story that CNN has essentially hijacked its entire channel to report about the plane at a 24/7 pace. This is all the more incredible at a time when some people are talking about the return of war in Europe. However, as day after day passes without any new substantive evidence about what exactly happened to cause the plane’s disappearance, the chances of us ever truly solving this mystery steadily decrease. It is on par with some of the still unresolved mysteries. Who shot JFK? What happened to Jimmy Hoffa? How was George W. Bush elected in 2000? And then re-elected in 2004?

In the 1950s, the suggestion that a plane’s movement could be charted anywhere in the world at any time would have sounded ridiculous. Amelia Earhart’s disappearance was intriguing. But it didn’t occur to anyone that it would be outrageous if the truth was not ascertained. In 2014, the reverse is true. Not knowing what exactly happened to cause a giant Boeing aircraft to go missing seems outlandish. We have gotten used to the idea that every item, every person and all digital movements are and should be traceable at any given time. The final nail in the coffin of any belief to the contrary was surely last year’s revelation about the scope and depth of NSA spying operations not only in the United States, but around the world. Yet, Flight 370’s fate seems to subvert all the notions we have ever been told to accept unconditionally about the globalised world we inhabit. Things just don’t disappear anymore. In a world dominated by Google Street View, CCTV and digital key finders, it is just hard to lose anything.

This feature of our world, or more precisely what we have come to accept our world to be, is fundamentally connected to the small world paradigm. With globalisation, everything moves closer together, converges, shrinks. In essence, this is what makes the disappearance of a plane such a bewildering mystery. Thus, more than anything, Flight 370 is a reminder both of how globalisation has shaped our way of thinking as well as all the things we think we know but have yet to discover. For instance, 70 percent of the world’s surface is covered by water. Yet, by some estimates up to 99 percent of the ocean floor remains unchartered territory. Thus, in a sense, anything could be down there. We just don’t know. Every year we discover new species of fauna and flora. Heck, in 2011 we even discovered human beings we never knew existed.

Therefore, the disappearance of a huge plane is both somewhat reassuring as well as disconcerting. It is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions for the family members of those on the plane. There is very little that could be worse than not knowing what happened to those people. Maybe they will never know. In an abstract sense, however, it is a reminder that we can still get lost. Even in times of globalisation. This makes us question our own assumptions about the world. While everything seems to be ever more predictable, there is still space for mystery.

One response to “Flight 370 and the Globalised World: The Return of Mystery”

  1. Oliver O'Hanlon says:

    Perhaps not quite up there with JFK and Jimmy Hoffer but I see what you are getting at. As someone whose GF flies for a living its in the back of my mind that this could happen.