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November 19, 2017

8:39 PM

When the past collides with the future, the result is unpredictable


Francisco Miraval

I recently read the story about an 83-year-old Chinese woman who was arrested at a regional airport in China and accused of trying to destroy a plane. The plane was not destroyed, and she eventually was freed, but her actions caused damage to the plane and the flight was delayed for several hours.

Now, what can an old lady do to destroy a plane? According to the story, that was the first time the lady was boarding a plane. She was with her family ready to fly to visit other family members. Also, it seems the security at the regional airport was not at the same level of other larger airports, so the pockets of the passengers were not checked.

And one more thing: to board the plane, passengers had to walk to the runway and use those old stairs on wheels, moved by hand to position them next to the door of the airplane. When the old lady was climbing those stairs (or somebody was helping her), she did what she always does before a trip: she threw nine coins to the air, asking the gods to protect her during the trip.

In this case, five of the nine coins fell inside one of the engines of the plane. Had the turbine been running full speed for take-off, those coins could have caused enough damage to put in danger the plane and the passengers.

So, the old lady was arrested, and technician had to check the plane’s engine. Five hours later, the plane was ready to flight, and the old lady was free to go. The story doesn’t say what happen afterwards, but we can assume it was a good flight and a good trip for the lady and her family.

This story illustrates what happens when the past collides with the future, when there is a clash of tradition and technology, when we always did is different from what we need to do. It also illustrates the danger of hanging on to the past when facing the future, because when they collide, both could be destroyed.

I read stories about people in the 1800s destroying some of the first phonographs (voice recorders) assuming they were devices to talk with the dead, or suing photographer accusing them of taking pictures of “spirits”.

In that context, it is well known that in France, when the first movies were shown and the images were of a train leaving the station, people run out of the movie theater believing an actual train was approaching. And people watching color TV for the first threw water to the TV when they saw a fire thinking the fire was happening there.

Let’s be honest: in this world of unthinkable technological progress, we are all as disconnected from the future as the old Chines lady was disconnected from a plane. Our well-intentioned ideas, habits, and traditions are almost useless to enter a new time in history. And in that conflict, the winner is difficult to predict. 

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