It’s a standard bar-room debate: “If you could have a superpower, what would it be?” The options offered are usually invisibility, flight and X-ray vision.
A lot of people pick the ability to fly. Well, those people are idiots. If you could fly it would be a disaster. Here’s why.
1. You’d Constantly Lose Things
Our pockets are designed to work with gravity: You drop stuff inside them and they sink to the bottom. But since people always fly horizontally, stuff is going to fall out of your pockets.
In a crowded city that’s dangerous; in a crowded and litigious city that’s disastrous. Best-case scenario is I lose my keys over Central Park and have to get them all replaced. Worst-case scenario is my iPhone falls out of my pocket over 5th Avenue, punches through the roof of a cab and breaks somebody’s arm. The cops unlock the phone and find my personal info. Next thing you know I’m being contacted by a law firm and being sued for damages.
2. It’s Cold Up There
Where I live in Manhattan, you can’t fly low or you’ll smack into traffic lights and tree branches. To get up above the buildings you need some altitude. Well, temperature drops 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet of altitude. Then there’s the wind, which would increase in severity the faster you went. So during the winter, every time you wanted to fly you’d have to bundle up like you were going on an Arctic expedition. And you would probably lose a lot of hats because they would always be flying off of your head.
3. You Wouldn’t Be Able to See Well
The wind would be in your eyes all the time, particularly if you flew fast. If you wore glasses they’d just fly off. So you’d have to wear goggles with a headband and they’d have to be on tight. Bugs would still slam into them and obscure your vision. Plus when you arrived at work and took the goggles off, you’d have red circles around your eyes for like fifteen minutes, your hair would be messed up, there’d be bugs in your teeth and you’d just generally look like a mess.
4. Airborne Accidents are Worse than Earthbound Ones
At least once a week I’ll slam a shin into a coffee table or stub my toe. We’re all capable of klutzy, distracted behavior, and accidents would be way worse high up in the air. Let’s say I’m taking off from the sidewalk and still thinking about what I should have said to that jerk on the subway. So I’m distracted and I fly straight up into a street lamp and hit my head. Now I fall twenty feet back down to the street and break both of my legs.
5. You Can’t Carry Much
If you need to transport a lot of stuff on the subway, you can use a roller bag and schlep it up and down the steps. But if you’re flying you’re limited to a backpack. Backpacks are designed for upright use, where they harmlessly transfer weight to your shoulders and lower back. But in that horizontal flying position, all of the weight is going to be pressing directly against your spine. Even your MacBook Air and a couple of books are eventually going to send you to the chiropractor.
6. Landing Would be a Hassle
Let’s say I want to cross the East River from Manhattan to visit Brooklyn Heights. I can’t just touch down in the middle of Montague Street or I’m going to get hit by an Uber. So I have to find a stretch of sidewalk that’s not obscured from above by tree branches and I have to avoid pedestrians so I don’t land on somebody and get sued.
If I do manage to find an uncrowded spot and land, there’s going to be a commotion. People are not used to other people dropping out of the sky. They’ll point and panic, some will scream. Store owners will grab bats from underneath the counter. Cops will approach me with their hands on their holsters. Hordes of people will whip out their phones and start recording me. Imagine what a pain in the ass it’d be if that happened every time you climbed out of a subway station.
So you think, “Well, just land on a rooftop, where there’s no people.” Yeah? Then what, genius? I still need to get down to street level. Rooftop stairwell doors in New York City are always locked to prevent thieves getting into the building. Am I gonna fly from rooftop to rooftop trying to find one that’s unlocked? At that point it’d be faster for me to take the train.
7. Bird Strikes
Believe it or not, pigeons can do 50 miles per hour. If a semi truck is coming at you at 50 miles an hour, at least you can see the damn thing since it’s huge. Pigeons are tiny and hard to spot from far away. So let’s say I’m flying across the Hudson because I got tired of waiting for the ferry, I’m flying west at 50 m.p.h., a pigeon is flying east at 50 m.p.h. and we collide. That’s basically like I got shot in the chest with a pigeon going 100 m.p.h. If its beak shattering my sternum doesn’t kill me instantly, I’m still going to fall into the Hudson River where I will now drown.
8. You’ll Get Sick
If it’s raining out, you can’t fly with an umbrella, it’s simple aerodynamics. So anytime there’s precipitation and you want to take flight, you’re going to get soaked. Coupled with the colder air up there, you’re going to get sick constantly. You’ll be flying to the pharmacy a lot to stock up on Sudafed.
Also, if you’re carrying anything metal during a thunderstorm, there’s a good chance you’ll be struck by lightning. Then you will fall out of the sky. Afterwards the coroner will examine your smoking, shattered corpse to determine if you were killed by being electrocuted, by the impact of hitting the ground or by the blunt force trauma from the crosstown bus that then ran you over, like it makes any damned difference.
So yeah, being able to fly isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And don’t even get me started on invisibility. Folks, you always choose X-ray vision, at least you do if you’re a designer. In the next post I’ll explain why.