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Branson's text-a-guru unlikely to fly

And the 'science' of SMS analysis

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Comment How much "style" do you have, when you send a text?

The answer to this hangs all the tedium of a trans-Atlantic flight. It would seem that in the future all we will be allowed to do in a plane is either get stinking drunk, or twiddle our thumbs.

The thumb-twiddling idea is the brainchild of that nice Mr Branson of Virgin, who has installed texting in the seats of his planes. You can text from your seat! - but it's not what it sounds like. No, you can't text your friends. You can text a guru.

"Passengers will be able to text questions from their seat-back television screens to an existing land-based text answer service which promises to answer any question within minutes," reported Reuters. Any question? sure! - anything from "a recommended bar in New York, to what's the best way to get over jet-lag, or what's the best way to chat up the cabin crew", a Virgin spokeswoman said.

When you're stuck with nothing to do except chat up Virgins, you are indeed in trouble. But the question arises: if Branson's airline extended the texting service to allowing you to text friends, would they believe it was you?

The point of the story, obviously, is the threat to carry-on luggage. You can't/you can. Laptops are being permitted again. But what about the next scare? And this, finally, may end the vexed question of whether it's safe to switch a phone on in the cabin. Because, as long as it was just a vague threat to the comms system, nobody in the airline business gave a tuppeny damn whether you had a phone, or six phones, in the cabin.

But now that it might be a detonator, I suspect they're going to be more draconian.

How will you prove that the wireless LAN card on your laptop isn't rigged? There is no way.

I'm reminded of the occasion when I arrived in LA with a brand new US Robotics modem, in the days when the first 9600 bits-per-second modems appeared. In those days, nobody knew what a modem was. I was flying to London; that meant a security check. OK, in those days, security was nothing on what it is today - even before the ban on carry-on luggage - but there was a recognition that an electronic device was a possible threat. So the security guard asked me what it was.

"It's a modem."

She looked at it. She looked at me. "Make it work."

The airlines won't be pleased. Slowly, they've been shifting from a stance of indifference to mobile calls on planes, into a dream world where we all pay extra for on-board internet.

In the brave new world we're entering, the only way of doing this may be to give us a keyboard - a proper keyboard - to go with the in-set amusement screen.

So there you are, sitting in your seat, with the beginnings of DVT in at least one leg, a sense that if you chat up the Virgin one more time, even with the best advice from the off-plane guru, you might get put into restraint, and a desire to see what the latest score is at home, or the news about the family dog. And you text the number of your mate or the vet or your mother-in-law and say: "Hi! it's me!"

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