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Malaysia Flight 370: Lessons in Lost

By Sander Biehn | Mar 16, 2014

I clearly remember the headline. I read it right before I went to bed on March, 7th US evening time. “Malaysian Airliner is Missing.” I feared the worst, but thought it strange that the press used the word missing. How can an Boeing Triple 7 be missing? It crashed, I thought. But ‘missing’ ran around in my head as I drifted to sleep.  It was as if that word was more terrifying to the reading public than, say, ‘feared crashed’, ‘possibly downed’, etc.  How can anything be ‘missing’?

I followed the news closely over the next several weeks. Conspiracy theorists like my brother thought the jet had landed in a rouge nation and was being loaded with explosives for ‘delivery’ to a western city.  It wasn’t to be, though. This airplane has vanished. Airplanes are about the largest mobile manmade objects that come to mind. In a world where you can pinpoint people anywhere on the globe and fly drones over their heads, it seems inconceivable that an airplane’s whereabouts are unknown.

The newspapers can’t print enough on the topic. It is so puzzling it defies our imaginations. Over the past decade GPS satellites combined with cellular technology and smartphones have eliminated our abilities to get lost regardless of where we go. Yes, you still hear tales of American tourists in Italy or Spain finding out that the maps are not always accurate, but these same tourists are quick to tell you that in general the devices were invaluable when in a foreign land.  Pinpointing where friends are is equally easy now. Social media sites like Facebook along with a check-in app like Four Square (and the simple fact that everyone is carrying a mobile device with them wherever they go), means that you can always find the whereabouts of whoever you want to track down. Need to meet them? Use Google Maps. If you don’t have a ride, download Uber and get one with on-board GPS precision.

A weekend in Durham, NC at a college reunion was a blur of text messages, phone calls and social posts that led us flawlessly from one gathering to the next. I suppose this is the promise of the future delivered.

But let’s return to Malaysia Airlines. It seems the specter of the un-findable still haunts us. Shoot, I lost the cord to my electric razor while out of town and I wish that the Internet of Things allowed me to find it. But it is as lost as Flight 370.  I think regardless of the technologies at our disposal, we still need to emotionally prepare ourselves for being unsure, unaware, and to face the unknowable. It is a valuable skill we lose in this new connected world.  Not knowing is causing stress, especially in a world accustomed to knowing where everything and everybody is at all times. I think this stress is mounting in many of us.  We fixate on knowing everything and in the process forget how to get past the unknowable. I think that this inner stress also can prevent us from taking the necessary risks in order to grow, as people, as businesses and as a society.

It isn’t hard to turn this trend around. A simple exercise like walking in a strange city or park without a cellular device and relying on the help of others you meet or simply paying more attention to your environment can help. I don’t mean wandering into an Alaskan wilderness without a compass, but I do think we often carry our exact location as a security blanket. Go ahead, get lost.  Feel free to be in a new surrounding and see what you learn. See how you feel when you finally find your way back to familiar territory. Not only will you be able to better navigate that area in the future, you may just find that getting lost wasn’t all that terribly inefficient or time consuming.  You may even find that you are forced to think about your surrounding differently. This can lead to growth that would never occur if you were leaning on technological assistance constantly.  It is analogous to taking a calculated risk.  Without stretching past our personal abilities, we may never  know what we are capable of.

While my heart goes out to the families living with the uncertainty of the fate of their loved ones on that Malaysia Airlines flight, I think there may be something the rest of us can learn from it.

What is your point of view? Be sure to reply with your exact longitude and latitude so I know where you are!

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