I recently downloaded Flight Simulator, an “ambient travel app” from Soft Works, a small software company run by Laurel Schwulst and Dan Brewster. It’s pitched as an “ode to airplane mode” that celebrates the “peaceful solitude of travel.” Set your phone to airplane mode, choose a real-world destination, and, after the duration the actual flight, you’ll be alerted that you have landed. You can fly again from that airport or take your phone off airplane mode and resume using it normally. I use it primarily as a more creative and fun version of distraction-fighting apps like RescueTime; it feels more like an experiment (where can I fly today?) than a taskmaster.
Right now, though, I’m frequently solo parenting an energetic, inquisitive, and screen-loving four-year-old. And I realized that I can repurpose Flight Simulator as an educational and screen-diversion tool. We choose a destination together, look briefly at the airplane “window,” then put the phone away. It’s “flying.” We discuss what we want to learn about the place we’re going: what its people are like, what is its tallest building, what is its most famous food, what does its biggest park look like. Then we spend a few minutes using Wikipedia, YouTube (try “[placename] 4k”), Google Earth, recipe websites, or other tools to learn about that place together.
Perhaps this use case is not what Schwulst had in mind when she said, in an interview, “I’d recommend trying a simulated flight with a real life human companion to activate a shared imagination.” But Flight Simulator helps us use our shared imagination to confront being stuck in our neighborhood.
(Image source: CalArts)