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Life In The Vast Plane...

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.
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Written by Oliver Marks on

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...

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