Travel light

You have to get up pretty early in the morning to beat me in the check-in line at the airport. When I see the instructions in the ticket folder that advise travellers to arrive two hours prior to departure, I don’t scoff; I do as I’m told. For a long time, I felt like the only one.

Now

everyone seems to be getting up earlier. Launching ITBusiness.ca had kept me from taking many business trips over the last two years, but now I’ve seen first-hand the harsh realities that face the mobile computing industry as they try to equip users for the road.

My journey to Intel Developer Forum 2002 last week marked my second out-of-town assignment since the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11. The first was for Comdex Fall Las Vegas, where I had the luxury of leaving on a Sunday afternoon. For IDF, however, we were set to fly at 9:00 a.m., which meant getting there by 7:00 a.m. I know this is nothing for the many IT professionals who frequently find themselves on the redeye, but it was an ungodly hour for me on a Saturday.

I barely made it on the plane. “”I thought people weren’t travelling anymore,”” someone joked in the lineup at the Air Canada desk that seemed to extend all the way back to my apartment. Oh, they’re travelling all right. And they all have laptops. In fact, if it weren’t for my laptop and those of the people around me I might have managed a few minutes’ respite in the waiting area instead of boarding just as my seating area was being called. The laptop, which is supposed to bring us anytime, anywhere access to our corporate data, has become a small child that slows you down by having to go to the bathroom all the time.

It’s the checkpoints, where security has been beefed up considerably, where time stands still. It is also the place where convergence turns into divergence: according to a report in USA Today, laptops are disappearing from major airports at an alarming rate. Screeners in Seattle-Tacoma, for example, said they turned in 115 laptops left at checkpoints in the last three months of 2001. In the same period the year before, only three had been left behind. You can tell these are high-tech companies executives because of cities mentioned (not only Seattle but San Francisco, where nine laptops appeared at a single checkpoint).

As I stood in line waiting to cross through the checkpoint archway, I saw seasoned air passengers ripping open their carrying cases well in advance, opening up their laptops and turning them on before they were told. One woman balanced hers on one hand, like a waitress with a tray, while she deftly threw all metal objects into the pocket of her coat, which was slung over the other arm. These acrobatics constitute the training teleworkers will need in the near future. No wonder so many people, intimidated by the patrolling guards and the random bag checks, end up leaving their laptops behind.

Over time, habit-forming IT professionals should become accustomed to these new routines, but the greatest distractions are still to come. Just last month we reported the success of Burlington, Ont.-based AcSys installing its facial recognition systems in U.S. airports. The great promise of biometric security has been met with resistance in the enterprise so far, probably because many people are put off by the invasive, “”biological”” nature of the interface. During a war on terrorism, that squeamishness can be pushed aside, particularly in public places.

These hassles could trigger some dramatic changes in the mobile sector. Tablets, which don’t have to be opened up like a laptop, could finally take off. Die-hard laptop users could create a greater demand for always-on products. Smaller devices like RIM’s BlackBerry and other PDAs may become the more convenient option for road warriors.

Then there’s the unthinkable solution: we leave the technology — and the office — behind. You buy a magazine, get on the plane, and the only thing special in the air is the privacy of the unconnected. You don’t even have to wait for your next business trip to experience this liberating sensation. You can do it anytime. Anywhere.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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