TIME, TIDES AND BIZ-TRAVEL TECHNOLOGY
By Joe Brancatelli
October 10, 2013 --As if to remind me that my road-battered BlackBerry is history, two Ghosts of Business Travel Technology Past appeared on my doorstep this week.
A pristine IBM Selectric typewriter, all mid-century modern curves and keyboard perfection, was a surprise gift from an iconic, ironic computer entrepreneur. Then a friend returned a Netbook I loaned him years ago.
The IBM Selectric, of course, was the greatest typewriter ever built. It revolutionized industrial design, improved office productivity, ruled typing pools for a generation and was the go-to choice for business travelers when they needed a beautifully prepared presentation. On the other hand, the Netbook was a blip, a must-have travel-tech marvel in 2008 and 2009 that was quickly obliterated by iPads and other tablets.
Somewhere between the life-changing Selectric and the blink-and-you-missed it Netbook craze lies the BlackBerry. It dominated our lives on the road for a decade, made e-mail mobile and created the era of never-out-of-touch obsession. It even taught us how to pray to our technology.
But it's over. We've known for more than a year that both the product and the company are doomed. We didn't need the news of last month's billion-dollar writedown of assets or the gigantic quarterly loss to tell us that time, tides and technology wait for no business traveler.
Yet some hang on to this particular Ghost of Business Travel Past. Whether it's laziness, indecision about whether to jump to iPhone, Android or a Windows smartphone, or continued devotion to physical keyboards, some business travelers grimly stick with BlackBerry.
Marshall Auerback is one of the very few business travelers who purchased a BlackBerry Q10, this year's failed save-the-company device.
"I realize it is probably the last BlackBerry I shall ever buy, but I love the physical keyboard," says the 54-year-old economist at New York' Institute for New Economic Thinking. "I just want something that will enable me to send and receive e-mails efficiently, especially when I get off a plane or am sitting around in an airport."
If you're having BlackBerry separation anxiety—even I have both an Android and a Windows phone now—allow me to point out some other business-travel "essentials" that have gone the way of the Selectric and the Netbook.
Pagers. Once upon a time, no business wardrobe was complete without a "beeper" hanging from our belts. Millions were sold, billions in monthly fees were paid. By the end of the 1990s, however, mobile phones had all but destroyed the pager market. We survived and our belts are better for it.
Fax machines. When was the last time you sent or received a fax? Yet there was a time in the 1990s when it was trendy for luxury hotels and upscale chains like Hyatt to place a fax machine in our rooms. Those that didn't made a small pot of money charging us $5 or so each time we would send or receive a fax via the hotel's own machines.
Telex. Before e-mail and text messaging, business travelers communicated on a cost-effective basis via telex numbers and telex machines. I even got my first e-mail address in the 1980s because MCI Mail doubled as a telex system. I can't remember the last time I've seen a telex message or saw a business card with a telex number listed.
Dual-time watches. In this era when all electronic devices have a clock, it may be hard to remember when a dual-time watch was the height of business-travel chic. After all, it was the only practical way for road warriors to simultaneously keep track of the time in their current location and back at home. Unless you're a watch freak and lust after the classic Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, who needs or wears a dual-time watch today?
Answering-machine tone generators. The rise of answering machines in the 1960s created another business-travel essential: a little box (usually black) that generated tones and allowed you to retrieve messages from pay phones or hotel-room phones. We cut pretty lumpy figures back then when you considered we carried a tone generator in our pocket and a pager on our belts.
Portable alarm clocks. There are business traveler who simply can't give up their little travel alarm clocks, but you have to wonder why. Mobile phones all have alarm features and most hotels have switched to automated wake-up call services that long ago replaced the need for a harried front-desk clerk to dial.
Howard Johnson. Before there were national fast-food chains and fast-casual dining, there were Howard Johnson restaurants. It wasn't the first roadside chain, but it dominated turnpike rest areas, spawned a hotel company and satisfied literal road warriors with multiple flavors of ice cream, hearty breakfasts and burger platters and the ubiquitous fried clam strips. Once numbering more than 1,000 locations, a homage site called HoJoLand.com says just two remain. And one of them doesn't even have the orange roof that made Howard Johnson an easy-to-spot option from any Interstate or toll road. Also gone: Hot Shoppes, the restaurant chain created by the family that eventually launched the Marriott lodging empire.
Empower ports. When the novel concept of at-your-seat power first appeared on aircraft, business travelers toting laptop computers plugged into something called an Empower port. Since it was DC powered and used a non-traditional receptacle, you needed a special adapter. They were bulky, costly and took up a lot of room in your carry-on bag. Thankfully, however, most carriers have switched to AC-powered at-seat port and Empower adapters are now a turn-of-the-century curiosity.
All these things and many more have passed into business-travel history. Soon two more will join them. Next month, Singapore Airlines ends its ultra-long-haul, 18-plus-hour flights to Singapore from Los Angeles and Newark. And sometime in January, Delta Air Lines is expected the retire the last of its DC-9s, a jet aircraft that traces its lineage to the mid-1960s.
We survived all this stuff, moved on and kept traveling. We'll survive the last days of BlackBerry, too.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2013 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.