Secret CIO: Tech Advances Keep Travelers Connected

The daily grind keeps us from appreciating the changing horizon.
Cindy insisted we take a vacation. Since I spend so much time on airplanes, I feigned enthusiasm and suggested a long weekend at a rustic bed and breakfast. "No," she responded, "I mean a vacation. Because you stay at hotels on business, I'll rent a condo in a very casual place. You won't even need to take a sports jacket."

We packed carefully so we could go carry-on and avoid waiting (and hoping) for our luggage to appear on the carousel. We made sure we didn't have anything that could be vaguely classified as a weapon. My do-all pocketknife stayed home, as did Cindy's manicure set.

The airport leg of the journey was as convenient as it could be in this era of standing in long lines for the opportunity to empty your pockets and trudge in your stocking feet through a metal detector. Finally we arrived, picked up the rental car, and drove for an hour or so to our destination. True to her word, with the exception of voice-mail access and a high-speed Internet connection, it was a throwback to the times when we had nothing to do but concentrate on each other and where to go for dinner.

I thought back to how different travel is from our first trip together. Like many of us, I've become so used to the changes technology has made in our lives that I normally don't even think about them. Cindy didn't talk to a travel agent to book our secluded resort; she did a Web search, viewing photos of different properties, including a 360-degree sweep of the lodgings available to us. I purchased the airplane tickets and chose our seats online. A detailed Internet weather forecast helped us decide what clothing to take. The morning of our flight, I printed the boarding passes to avoid having to check in at the gate. Of course, the flip side of all this convenience is that when the computer systems providing these conveniences are down, chaos occurs, disrupting everything.

Our car was waiting for us when we arrived, and the only interaction I had at the rental location was to show my driver's license. When I returned it, the attendant used a wireless device to calculate the bill and print a receipt while I took our bags out of the trunk. I had filled up the car on the way back to the airport by holding the radio-frequency identification tag on my key chain near the pump.

Years ago, I would estimate the cash to take on a trip and get travelers checks if the amount was too high. Now, I didn't even think about it. Our credit cards are good worldwide, and if we need any money beyond what we have with us, ATMs are available everywhere.

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is in communication, the ability to be in contact with anyone anywhere anytime. I remember always leaving detailed information as to where we were going and the telephone numbers of the places we'd be staying. When was the last time any of us did that? Cell phones work practically anywhere in the United States, and global connectivity is in sight. Besides, I take a small laptop computer with me and check E-mail daily--one message was from a friend sailing in the Atlantic.

Technology has changed a lot in our lives, and, if you're like me, you take it pretty much for granted. The only thing that hasn't changed (and I hope I never take for granted) is the special person who arranged this great getaway for us.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at [email protected].

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