Life In The Vast Plane...

Life In The Vast Plane...

Summary: Why is it that laptops and the internet have been around for a generation and yet the infrastructure we live in still doesn't support them? I'm talking primarily about travel.


Why is it that laptops and the internet have been around for a generation and yet the infrastructure we live in still doesn't support them? I'm talking primarily about travel. A vast portion of the working population are regularly on the move, particularly flying, for face to face meetings.  Companies like IBM have vast numbers of employees working remotely, travelling to convene at irregular intervals in buildings their employers now use primarily for meetings having sold off their cube farms.

This is the emergent way people work - collaboration with internet and mobile connectivity.

Given this accelerating reality, it's bizarre to be in an airport and see business travelers scanning the scene hungrily - not for food, but for electrical sockets. Power for battery juice is practically fought over, with the familiar scene of the laptop users sitting huddled on the floor around the few electrical outlets in a pathetic encampment. Amazingly the same thing is true at many conference venues which you would have thought would have been designed with these users in mind by now.

Get on the aircraft and the similar problems are evident. Aside from a couple of new domestic US carriers with on board wifi, aircraft interiors are designed for the 'sit back' experience - sit back and watch TV while we bring you peanuts and drinks every now and then. It's like '50's suburbia, they even bring you TV dinners. Why can't you have a fold down desk with power and ethernet jack instead of a TV dinner stand?

The 'sit forward' computer users just aren't catered to. Why can't you book four or six seats facing each other on a plane to have an in air meeting? (It would be great to be able to bring in other team members on the ground over wifi). Why are there virtually no in-airport office facilities like the co-working spaces that are popping up in big cities everywhere?

The early 60's Jetsons cartoons were aspiring to some sort of logical future where everything was made easier, but industrial scale travel today seems obsessed with getting people from A to B over how they spend their considerable time while traveling.

Years ago I worked with a company whose ceo got up every morning and took off in a Lear jet over Europe to land where the problems were that day, and often had most of his meetings in the air. Execs with small jets routinely meet in the air, even bumming lifts off each other.

The economy class seems doomed to steerage quality for the foreseeable future, which is a shame because upselling with the proposition of better working conditions in the air makes more sense to me than six more inches of legroom and a glass of champagne.

A similar logic seems to apply to the two reports out today from Forrester (The State Of Workforce Technology Adoption: US Benchmark 2009) and Deloitte/Beeline (2009 Tribalization of Business Study) respectively.

Snapshots of small samples of today's workforce like these reports don't really take into account the momentum around the needs of newer work flows and pent up demand for information accessibility, wherever you are on the planet or flying above it.

The airlines spend marketing millions congratulating themselves on catering to people's every need in flight, and the same thing seems to be true with many productivity software tool vendors and their analyst and professional services colleagues...

Topics: Legal, Browser, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi


Oliver Marks & Associates provides seasoned, technology agnostic independent consulting guidance to companies on effective Digital Enterprise Transformation business strategy, tactics, infrastructure & technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models and management.

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  • At least you'd get some peace and quiet.

    At least you'd get some peace and quiet. Personally, I enjoy having some time off work, and don't want to be on the clock 24/7, thanks.
    • Not Just for Work

      If I'm using my laptop in a plane or an airport, fortunately very rare, it's almost certainly to do a crossword puzzle. Computers aren't just a for-work tool

  • RE: Life In The Vast Plane...

    That is an extremely valid point: 'always on' = burn out. Modern work practices aren't modulated well to define time out. The subject of a future post....
  • Only sales people travel with laptops

    Those of us doing the real work are connected all the time and don't have to travel.
    • How about sales people and software trainers?

      I'm a software trainer (among other things) and every so often need to fly to a client location to do the training. And no, online training isn't the answer. Ever try demonstrating Photoshop or Premiere Pro over web conferencing?

      Because of the lack of power, I carry one of those Black and Decker universal external batteries that weighs almost as much as my laptop. I wish I didn't have to. Next time, I'll take a miniature power strip to share with my fellow travelers.

      And never in my life have I been on a plane that had power jacks at the seats. Maybe because I'm doomed to flying cattle class? I see the adapters sold in stores, but they're useless to 99% of us.
      The Daleks
    • Quite a few others are traveling with laptops

      Many, many other types of business folks travel with laptops. You've already mentioned sales people. How about customer service representatives, executives, analysts, and I've only begun to think of folks I see using Laptops while traveling.

      While it would be nice to be able to sit in my office and never have to travel, some forms of people-to-people collaboration really must be done in person.

      Dan K
    • only sales people..?

      I am a biomedical research scientist who frequently travels to field
      research sites around the world, collaborative meetings with other
      scientists, government review and consultation panels, etc. Many of my
      colleagues and I work 10-14 hour days at our home institutions and find
      that if we do not take advantage of the time available during flights to
      work, we will fall more hopelessly behind than we usually are. Given that
      I am paid to a large extent by NIH research grants from you (federal tax
      dollars), I should think that you would want me to be able to keep
      working no matter where I am. A more work-friendly environment on
      the planes and in the airport terminals would be greatly appreciated by
      • only sales people..?

        I am a lowly volunteer for a national sports
        organization and am required to travel to
        different places in Canada, since I don't get
        paid or get stipends I can't afford to log on
        to the internet at airports to go over my notes
        by email and/or makes changes. Why can't this
        be free? How much can it cost them? My personal
        computer can only last about an hour and a half
        and my organization cannot afford to supply me
        with a longer lasting laptop/netbook :-(
        • "Why can't this be free?"

          bvonr, nothing is "free". You just want someone
          else to pay for it so you can have what you want
          without paying for it. "How much can it cost
          them?" Who is "them" and if it so inexpensive,
          why don't you pay your own way?
    • A bit full of ourselves aren't we??

      Hey, all questions of who can win the "Most pompous statement of the day award" aside...
      What about those of us on vacation who like to keep up with our "gasp" non-business email, play games, watch our own movies.
  • User issue, instead?

    Why haven't more people figured out it is really a good idea to have more than one battery for a portable device?

    And if it isn't "convenient", why hasn't the pc industry listened?

    I'd question why "tax payers" or "consumers" should foot the bill for something that "business" doesn't yet see fit to address - to their own detriment.
    • How can "business" address these issues?

      Their only choice is coach and first class and first class is too expesive to justify for most of their staff. As pointed out, leather seating and glass 'glasses' are less important than a decent-sized work surface, power, and wifi!
      M Wagner
  • RE: Life In The Vast Plane...

    Simple answer. Economics. If airports and conference venues can make any money selling you power via wall outlets, then the walls will be awash with outlets.Same for airline seats. There is ample room for a laptop in first class, just pay the freight.
    • Makes sense, but not necessarily true

      Industry is sometimes behind the curve when it
      comes to dealing with changing consumer demands,
      especially in an area as weighed down with
      government red tape as the airline industry. Even
      more so for airports that are typically owned by
      governments and therefore are not designed for the
      ideas of economics and customer service.
  • No it's a new business

    New business:Insert dollar, charge for 5 min.
  • RE: Life In The Vast Plane...

    Some of us are not interested in working while flying, or even entertaining ourselves with laptops. Let people who want this extra service pay for it, and please let them sit together. Let the airlines provide them the space and power outlets.
    In other words, let those of us who are not demanding additional services set by ourselves.

  • Electrical Outlets

    Perhaps someone should read the US and Canadian wiring codes - there is a small limit specified on the number of outlets that can be attached to each circuit breaker in the wiring of commercial premises. Rule 8-304 in the CSA code. The branch circuit will be designed for an intended load of cleaning equipment, not PCs.
    So, if the breaker panel is not to be huge, there will be a limit on the number of outlets...
    • Add more power from the street

      PCs have much less draw than floor waxers and vacuum cleaners, so it should be easy to attach more of them to the existing wiring. And airports can always bring new power lines into the terminal to accommodate the extra outlets. I'd be willing to pay a couple of extra dollars on my ticket to pay for this.
      The Daleks
      • Paying for power at airports

        Travel time is such a bloody waste of time. The
        two best things I can think of to do while
        traveling are work -- I'm a medical editor and
        usually have a long queue of biomedical papers
        to revise -- and sleep. I hate watching movies
        and listening to music on airplanes, especially
        the drivel that the airlines see fit to provide,
        but, unlike some of the posters here, love to
        ply my trade whenever I can.

        I would not be willing to pay for electricity
        by having the airline add the charge to my and
        everyone else's tickets. Those of us who want
        to plug in and work ought to be able to pay at
        the source, and not at the absurd rate of US$1
        for 5 minutes of juice. If the airlines, or
        whoever it is that pays, are willing to provide
        no-cost tobacco dens for nicotine addicts in
        airports, they should also be willing to provide
        reasonably priced electricity dens for those of
        us who want to work rather than be artificially
        entertained by flavorless, bowdlerized, and pre-
        ruined VHS versions of movies-fit-only-for-

        The same goes for on the airplane itself. If the
        airlines are willing to allow inveterate yakkers
        to ruin air travel for those of us who would
        prefer not to have to listen to irrepressible
        vocal exhibitionists on airplanes, they
        certainly can cater to passengers who violate
        cabin sonics with only the clicking of laptop
        and netbook keyboards but are willing to pay a
        reasonable rate for the privilege of doing so.
      • Agreed, if they want to do it, it is not that hard