As Web conferencing gets better and better, you may find yourself wondering: In a few years, will we still need to travel for business?
In a word, yes. Web conferencing can be an efficient and inexpensive way to work with far-flung clients or co-workers, and as it becomes more popular, it will certainly cut down on business travel. But nothing can completely replace in-person interactions. Most companies will still want at least one face-to-face meeting before signing a big deal, for instance.
The good news is that business travel will likely be less tedious in the future. Airports and airlines are continually looking for ways to improve your experience before, during, and after a flight. And mobile technologies are making great leaps forward so you can get better use out of the downtime that inevitably accompanies travel.
The following fictional narrative imagines what business communications and travel might be like just a few short years from now. We're not talking wearable jetpacks or teleportation -- this is all based on real-world technologies that are in development or beginning to be available now.
So get ready: You're about to travel from New York to San Francisco in the year 2010.
Your Day Begins
New York City, 6:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)
You wake up to NPR news. On the wall in your bedroom, a flat-screen display shows your daily schedule, the weather, and the e-mails and video-mails waiting for you. Uh-oh, there's an urgent message -- the v-mail screen is flashing red.
No bad news today, please. After months of Web conferencing, today's the day you're traveling to San Francisco for a face-to-face meeting with the new Chinese investors in your company. You'll shake hands and sign the deal that puts your mid-sized company on the international map.
Get it over with. "Display urgent v-mail," you say. The divided display screen disappears and is replaced by the face of John F. Kennedy. Through computer animation, the former U.S. president confirms that your flight is on time and informs you that an aisle seat is now available due to a last-minute cancellation. As a preferred JFK International Airport traveler on the waiting list for aisle seats, you can give up your middle-row seat and take the better seat. You jump at the chance. This service is offered through JFK's new Integrated Travel Department, a one-stop-shop for the business traveler. Having Mr. Kennedy as your customer service rep never fails to give you a thrill.
Jump in the shower, where there's more good news. You've gained two pounds of muscle, according to your health-monitor shower readout.
D-Link's i2eye DVC-2000 videophone. Click image to enlarge.
"Don't ask me anything right now," she says. She looks tired. "The booth looks flat and the Chinese characters look like a collection of pick-up sticks. Do we have to have the spinning globe at the entrance? A football I can do. An accurate topographical map of the world is asking too much. And don't tell me I look tired."
You stare at the screen with a look of hopeful expectation.
"Ving me back in a hour," she says. "I should have something for you to look at then." The display darkens, and your standard information screen appears.
Get dressed, grab your tablet and overnight bag, and you're out the door.
8:05 a.m. EDT
Snubbing the streamlined hybrid Cadillac that other executives ride to the airport (the car service hasn't gotten hip to hydrogen fuel-cell cars yet), you're one of the urbanites who takes pride in taking public transportation each and every time. It never hurts to save a $250 car fare, either. You beat the traffic, still hellish even with 40 percent of all workers telecommuting, and know that surveillance cameras help keep you safe even in the press of people on the subway. Like every New Yorker, you can repeat the recorded message word-for-word:
"Thank you for using New York Public Transportation. For your safety, and the safety of others, your trip is being recorded. If you need assistance, please contact our Safe Travel Bureau at 1-800-"
You can even repeat it in Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin, Arabic, and Russian -- the order the recording always uses.