Typists in the Sky

I'm writing this in Evernote on an on-time Virgin America flight 355 somewhere over the midwest returning west from Boston: my iphone is recharging by usb into this laptop which is plugged into power under the seat and I'm online for $12.95 through GoGo.

I'm writing this in Evernote on an on-time Virgin America flight 355 somewhere over the midwest returning west from Boston: my iphone is recharging by usb into this laptop which is plugged into power under the seat and I'm online for $12.95 through GoGo.

I got in last night, picked up a rental car and relied on the GPS in my iphone to navigate me to the hotel I stayed in last night, had a meeting over dinner, went to bed, got up, was led astray by iphone gps so arrived late for the meeting I spent all day in before heading back for this flight.

I just ordered a 'Roast Beef & Havarti hand roll' using the touch screen in the seat back in front of me with my credit card, then emailed myself the receipt for expenses.

During today's meeting we agreed the distributed team would stop using email and instead use a web collaboration environment. On the left is a screen capture of my main Gmail account: as you can see I'm heading for the 50k club again.

Like many people I am constantly monitoring email in case anything important flies by: during meetings, on my iphone, at the airport etc. For my main account I take a Twitter like attitude: stuff flies by and I react to certain stimuli (usually involving projects and money) and let the rest go.

Also on the left there is a new contender for my Google high score club: Buzz. If I click that 553 new messages thread there may well be some interesting threads to explore in this crude new medium which has probably helped itself to my email contacts list because I haven't had time to go in and reset permissions.

My point: for every useful gadget like Evernote (which just backed up this post by automatically syncing to a server somewhere - cloud computing in the sky! Magic!) or the useful email Virgin just sent me for my expenses, there is a raging torrent of unfilterable communication that like most people I just don't have the hours in the day to consume. Even if I wanted to.

Against this reality I'm finding solutions to the tsunamai of information problem are high on many people's priority list. I was just talking to the CEO of a wood company sitting next to me (who's now asleep) who commented that email has meant an 'always on' life for employees, and that weekends were increasingly theoretical in the work week.

The new generations of collaboration software - Salesforce Chatter launched yesterday into a crowded market - that supposedly streamline and empower can be an additional time sink if you're already chained to email checking as part of your job.

Time is the currency of projects large and small and in a multitude of different ways. Relying on GPS directions that aren't accurate can rapidly turn into a false efficiency, for example, just as running projects with endless iterations of email communication to multiple people is very likely to lead team members astray and possibly even cause potentially disastrous results.

There's a difference though: I can augment my iphone gps with a paper map and directions, but the reactionary nature of email by those in a hierarchy makes it a very hard tool to use efficiently. The plethora of collaboration tools available all have benefits and advantages, but what so many of the analysts, futurists and pundits who comment on them don't do much of is actually live with them on a project level, or more to the point have them imposed on them, in conjunction with other systems that eat time in the work day

Presumably it won't belong before wifi is in most aircraft, and then we'll all be replying to email on tiny laptops in tiny seats and interacting in real time with people on the ground and in the air. What's missing in this picture is a start and end to the work day. It's fine for entrepreneurs, geeks and enthusiasts to chose to be online 24/7, but from a work perspective technology is becoming an endless river of interaction as Twitter like communication starts to hit the mainstream.

On the way out here the girl next to me was watching TV shows on her mac: that's an efficient use of time and technology. The wifi is sturdy enough on this flight to stream the video embedded at the top of this post - a great little promo film by Ben Watt who runs the Buzzin Fly label for his tour last autumn, that fits what's left of the 'glamorous' image of modern travel.

The self controlled side of 2.0 computing can be very enabling and efficient for those who can organize themselves well for business and for pleasure, but collectively we are increasingly at the mercy of the lowest common denominator - time bandwidth hogging communicators.

It is pretty amazing, though, that I can hit 'publish' and post this blog from a chair in the sky...I hope reading this was time well spent for you!


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