Fast Company

Work/Life: Please, Call It "Vintage"

Applying new technology is innovative, but the successful employ of old technology is ingenious. Recently I devoured an online article that I loved, totally, at Wired.com.

I work in the technology business, and I'm supposed to have a real jones for hot, new, next-generation technology--which I do, don't get me wrong. But I've always had a special fascination with old technology, too. Finding good applications for pre-existing, regression-tested, reliable stuff that's been around forever is sometimes even more satisfying than doing it for all-new stuff. Given that newer technology almost always costs more, it is, from a commercial perspective, more than intriguing. In fact, it's heroic.

Coming from the telecom space, I cut my teeth early and fast on Old School technology. I was raised in the heyday of Multiple Protocol Label Switching, or MPLS, wide area networking. And no, I didn't have to look up the acronym. This was hot stuff, packet prioritization and intelligent routing: all that jazz. It was the next generation of WANs, swooping in to solve the limitless limitations of legacy Frame Relay. Depressingly, like most telecom sales guys, I could tell you that the hardest part of selling against Frame Relay was that there really wasn't anything at all wrong with it.

One of my colleagues once told me about some of his experiences with customers using way-retro telecom technology, which I was raised to ridicule and abhor. Automatic Ringdown, for instance, where there are no buttons on the telephones, but if one person picks up the receiver another similar device rings. This technology is as old as Alexander Graham Bell; but on Wall Street and other trading floors around the world, there's nothing better. The venerable data transfer protocol we called "nine dot six" is used by many of the railway companies to conduct the signals as trains pass through the country. It's not particularly fast nor is it flexible with different types of data; but we're talking about making lights blink. Hey, it's faster than the train.

Here I ought to pause to reveal that my primary nonwork passion of playing the guitar subliminally feeds my interest in older technology. Guitarists are notoriously nostalgic. When it comes to older gear--tube amplifiers, germanium transistors, whatever--it is all-consuming. Illustrative of this shared trait is how Glenn Kurtz once wrote in his book "Practicing" that he owns an old classical guitar hewn from the door of an even older Spanish church. Cool.

Back to what this post is about: that travelers today are faced with an awful lot of hand-wringing, starry-eyed prognostication about how technology in some way, shape, or form is going to -- brace yourself -- "revolutionize" the experience of managed travel. For those of you in the business who are attending the NBTA convention in Houston (as have I), it's probably going to be laid on pretty thick, as usual. Pardon my jaded take; I don't disagree that changes are happening, but I object to the occasionally perturbing, but more often frantic tone taken by some industry outlets and pundits when it comes to travel innovation.

Lots of innovative companies, certainly in travel, need a makeover. But buzzword-slinging scaremongers disguised as "consultants" earnestly clanging away about "the new era" and "staying ahead of the curve" isn't what made the tech business great. Solving real problems for real people did. This means striving for consistent improvement, and making processes and objects better, faster, and cheaper. This also means creating solid tools for people and organizations to do their work better and more efficiently--instead of creating additional work and cost just for the sake of being on a given bandwagon at a given time. No one should be afraid or even skeptical of new technology; they should just be more confident when they ask the most important question and its most important follow-up:

"How is this better than what I have today? Show me."

That attitude isn't antiquated. It is, in parlance with which sales folks through the ages have become familiar, merely "vintage."

Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com

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