The recent disappearance of a commercial airliner in Asia has drawn a large amount of interest and news coverage. Not many people are familiar with this part of the world, but we have learned something about world geography.

While sorry for the people who were aboard the plane and their families and friends, I think the missing plane has opened many eyes. We who live in the western world may not have realized how different that part of the world is from our own. The vastness of the Indian Ocean, for example, is almost more than our minds can understand. Many of us realize how long the flight to Australia is from North America, but that’s about the only comparison we can make.

Many of the countries around the Indian Ocean and other seas or oceans in the area do not have the same levels of equipment as we are used to. The vast stretches of isolation there are not regularly covered by radar, and their search and rescue ships and planes are not as modern as those in the West.

That part of the world reminds me of the United States in the early 1800s. Great regions of the American West were not settled by white settlers and little was known of the natives and the great beauty and resources there. As settlers, adventurers, and merchants began penetrating these unknown lands, they created trails or trade routes such as the Santa Fe and Oregon trails.

In the vastness of the Indian Ocean, the most active parts are the shipping lanes that cross from west to east. These lanes are sailed by huge cargo ships carrying great containers of goods made in China and other countries in that part of the world. These container ships sail many a mile to bring us trinkets, clothing and electronics.

Thinking about it, one wonders how anyone can profit from these items, considering the cost of shipping, not to mention materials and labor. Unfortunately, people work for nickels and dimes a day to make these things that are just throwaway items to us. Our thirst for the latest cell phone or for new Christmas decorations that we use just once is driving these transactions.

I have the very first cell phone that I got and it works fine. I’m sure there have been 50 models since mine, but I’m still hanging on. Of course, my phone is not carried and probably used only a couple of times a month. I use it mostly when I am gone on business or pleasure trips and want to check in at home. I don’t suppose there are more than five people who know my cell phone number, and even they aren’t apt to reach me on it.

But, the bottom line is our hopes and prayers for the passengers and crew on that ill-fated airliner.

Kay Hively writes a weekly column for the Daily News.