Call Me Fred

30 Oct

Increasingly, I feel like Fred Flintstone stumbling through George Jetson’s world. Just this week I flew down to San Diego to attend Partners, Teradata’s user group conference, where cutting-edge data geeks meet with state-of-the-art computer geeks and wow each other with what they’ve done in the past year or so. If you want to know about the most advanced uses for enterprise intelligence, this is the key event to attend.

But it wasn’t the myriad conference and keynote sessions that made me feel like the bumbling Mr. Flintstone once again. It was my flight to Southern California.

Since moving to Oregon, by deliberate choice, through the ease of working remotely, with the reduction in corporate travel budgets, and from the utter inconvenience of air travel, I’ve reduced my time tethered to the airline industry from two to three weeks a month to two to three weeks a year.

Bliss.

My reduced exposure to the limitless tedium of airports around the world means I’ve missed out on a few rather substantial changes in George Jetson-style processes and services. Naturally, I’d heard of these advances, but I’ve never experienced them firsthand until this week.

When Alaska Airlines flight 576 deposited its load of passengers into the cramped terminal at San Diego International Airport mid-day on Sunday this week, the line of departing travelers leading into the terminal stretched endlessly throughout the concourse, blocking the paths of those who were following the Ground Transportation and Baggage signs. I overheard someone complain that they’d been in line for 45 minutes. And from where he was standing it was clear he would have another half hour before he got through security. I made a mental note to arrive a bit earlier than normal when it was my day to leave.

Upon my departure I saw the reason for the very long line: the x-ray security machine. It adds at least 20 seconds to each and every passengers’ trip through the ever-changing labyrinth of airport security. Ten of those seconds come from the necessary time it takes for the machine to bombard your body with a tiny dose of x-rays. Another ten comes from the time it takes for the Transportation Security Administration agent to explain what you’re supposed to do in the x-ray booth. So, while listening to the instructions, putting your thumbs on your head while holding your wallet and counting to ten as the machine scans your body, the people behind you wait…and wait…and wait.

Privacy and health concerns aside, x-ray machines compound the already complex passenger boarding process. If they were a true breakthrough, such as envisioned in the 1990 sci-fi flick Total Recall, where you get x-rayed while carrying all your gear to the plane without breaking stride, I’d give the security process two thumbs up. But you still need to pull your laptop out of your bag, take off your jacket, remove your belt, empty your pockets of keys and change, slip out of your shoes, and the rest. As it stands now, the x-ray process is yet one more reason not to fly. It adds extra time to the already long, mind-numbing experience of air travel.

The second technology advance I witnessed was WiFi in the air. Alaska Airlines flight 233 back to PDX offered me the chance to send e-mail from seat 26C, which I did for free, announcing to friends that I was sending them a message from 35,000 feet above terra firma. At first, I thought it was pretty cool. Then I noticed everyone around me diligently bent over their laptops working away harder than ever. What might be a fun or convenient new service for some was mostly another tool to keep workers working longer, harder, for no extra pay.

This trip reminded me once again that I’ll take my Fred Flintstone existence over George Jetson’s world any day.

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5 Responses to “Call Me Fred”

  1. Carl October 30, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    Fred,

    This posting made me smile. Although long ago now, I remember when an employer demanded I have a pager to be able to get hold of me anytime. I refused to carry a leash. Later they demanded I have a cell. Again, I refused. I did however succumb to a free laptop. Which proved to be a mistake. We worker bees have to hold the line and keep ourselves free of the 24/7 shackles of employers and intruding technology. People, please, go outside without your hardware and enjoy the world around us.

    Carl

    • Mark Everett Hall October 30, 2010 at 10:56 am #

      Carl–As you note, nothing from an employer is “free” because it always has very tight strings attached.

  2. Ken G. November 1, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    I despise the x-ray machine enough to either get in line for a traditional scan or ask for a manual inspection — though I don’t know if I’m as bothered by those scanners as I am by passengers who aren’t bothered by them.

    Airline flights used to be incredibly productive times for me, as I could use my laptop detached from the Internet. I rarely got so much writing done! Now I will have to train myself to keep my wireless receiver disabled (which is better for the battery, especially on long flights, anyway).

  3. Shefaly November 3, 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    Mark, it could be worse. The TSA could meet resistance: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/10/for-the-first-time-the-tsa-meets-resistance/65390/

    I have no doubt you have read the article already. But in the doom and gloom that has followed the week it appeared, it does provide a chance to laugh at the world we now live in.

    It could be worse in other ways. You could be an emigrant with family a few time zones away in which case one has no option but to deal with it once every year (at least).

    • Mark Everett Hall November 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm #

      Had not read Goldberg’s piece before, so, thank you. It was very funny.

      Although I am anti-air travel, like the peripatetic emigrant I , too, submit to its cruel convenience at least annually to stay in (literal) close contact with family & friends who stubbornly refuse to move within driving distance of where I live. 😉 But it is true bliss that work no longer requires the incessant pain of airlines, airports, and air security.

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