I participated in an involuntary natural experiment this week. I went to Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud Connections 2014 conference in Indianapolis but left my phone home. So I had to make the best of it by relying on my MacBook Air the whole time for everything from computing to Internet surfing, texting, and even telephoning.
It’s almost cringe-worthy to even title this piece as old school because it’s not — at least in my life. For me old school means no phone and no laptop either. It wasn’t that long ago, well within the span of my career, when even that rudimentary bit of technology was unavailable to road warriors. My basic business kit back then consisted of a very nice leather briefcase with an assortment of pens, maybe a calculator, note pad, and whatever paper files I thought might be useful on a trip. That was it!
I made phone calls by finding a public phone, calling the office (yup no voice mail yet either) and getting messages from the secretary of my department. Luckily there were phone credit cards and you could make all the calls you needed simply by entering a ten-digit code. Yes, I memorized it and most of my customers’ phone numbers too — heck I knew the whole parts list including individual part numbers by heart for that matter. At a phone booth I could take notes on the phone but only the basics — someone, a customer, called etc. — I already knew the number.
Back then the customer complaint was that sales reps didn’t always call back when they were supposed to. Boy, has selling changed.
It has often seemed to me that the IT revolution did several things but one of the most important was to reduce the hassle of being a road-warrior and not a moment too soon. Today airlines take up the slack. And, oh yes, since I didn’t have a laptop, I didn’t have PowerPoint and if I wanted to make a presentation it was either a chalk talk or, later, a slide show with real slides for which I carried a Kodak projector because you couldn’t depend on the customer to have one.
So having a multifunctional MacBook wasn’t exactly going old school but I am taking you, dear reader, into consideration here. You are more likely to have taken a laptop to college or had a PC in your dorm room. My college had a computer.
So, that was the experiment, reduced to the Spartan confines of a mere 1.6 GHz computer. How did I do? Well not bad though I have to admit there are far fewer things around to assist you these days. For example, I never saw a public phone which was fine because I haven’t had a charge card in forever and didn’t want to contemplate feeding the beast. Also, there was no one back at the ranch who could give me my messages anyhow.
I managed by making Skype calls through my computer on a few occasions and the result was satisfactory. Also, thank goodness I was bathed almost continuously in Wi-Fi while in Indianapolis so checking email, SMS, and Tweets was pretty easy and Tweeting is another form of communication all to itself. Very definitely new school.
I found not having a phone de-neuroticising to coin a phrase. For instance, when I landed I didn’t have the luxury of obsessing about whether the driver would be on time to pick me up. I couldn’t call the service after all. The most I could do was look out for my name in the small sea of signs greeting travelers. I was there, or my name was, just as it was supposed to be. Imagine that?
Also, in those moments when I was alone with strangers say, riding an elevator, there was nothing I could do to deal with the awkward silence but be more cognizant of my surroundings, which turned out to not be a bad thing. I could walk down a street without having to look up every few feet to ensure I was not about to step off a curb with my usual grace while not attending. At a sports bar I could watch the game or talk to my neighbor when that person was not avoiding me by being on the phone. I also discovered or re-discovered what it was like to look someone in the eye. I forgot how much gets communicated through body language, unconsciously, and without saying a word.
But what was most interesting was having no access to the Web and Wikipedia and having to rely on things like my brain to evaluate a statement about reality. Sometimes all I could do was evaluate the speaker and decide the person was credible or not so much.
To net it out though, I missed my phone and the up-to-the-moment connectivity it affords me. The time that I refer to as old school has vanished and only a few dinosaurs like me can relate to it and the experience was sort of like one of those wilderness experiences where they give you a match, a knife, and a canteen and let you go for a couple days. Not everyone’s cup of tea.
Wait a minute! This could be the basis of a new extreme sport or even a reality series. It would be safer than a muddy obstacle course and less expensive to produce than one of those island things. Maybe that’s a concept worth exploring. Somebody call re-write, but use a rotary phone.
(Cross-posted @ Beagle Research, LLC)