Adventures in Time: Technology, Expectations, and the Nature of Work
|Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
2 Sep 2014 | 11:55AM
What’s on your business card? Twenty years ago this month I was staffing a client investor meeting when an analyst handed me a business card that baffled me. I took it to my client, a very experienced and sophisticated investor relations head of a major bank. She stared at it and said, “How strange. Why would anyone want to put their email address on a business card?”
1994: What is the Internet, Anyway?
That same year, the cast of the Today show, in an unscripted moment, tried to make sense of email address protocols.
Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric couldn’t figure out what “@” meant. Gumbel called it “that little mark, the a with a ring around it.” Couric thought it meant About. They asked their producer, off camera, what the Internet was, anyway. His answer is worth watching.
In the 20 years since, email has gone from being a quaint curiosity to a basic reality of work.
But it wasn’t easy. Fifteen years ago my firm started working with a major financial services company. But one of our key client contacts, responsible for internal communication, wasn’t allowed to email outside the company. Or to access the Internet.
2004: What is a Blog?
And on Meet the Press just 10 years ago the then host, the late Tim Russert, asked the now incoming host, Chuck Todd, then the top editor at the political newsletter The Hotline, “What is a blog?”
Todd answered by referring to then presidential candidate Howard Dean’s blog as “essentially a digital bulletin board.” Russert then recast the definition for the audience’s benefit: a “Cyber Bulletin Board.”
2014: Business Cards
Over this Labor Day weekend I’ve been thinking about that pioneering analyst with email on her business card. That’s because my firm is now ordering new business cards, and grappling with the questions of what to put on the card:
- Cell phone number?
- Skype handle?
- Twitter handle?
- Blog site?
- Fax number?! (Overheard at the office: “Does anyone use faxes anymore?”)
- Titles? Do work titles matter?
And in my case, since I’ll be heading to China soon, and have already planned to have a Chinese translation of my business card, the questions include: Do I put my Twitter handle? My Weibo handle? Both? Neither?
Fulfilling and Managing Expectations
In the case of my business card, the criteria I’m trying to use are these: What would those who receive my card expect to find there? And beyond that, what do I want them to find?
These criteria track the decision-making criteria we at Logos teach our clients and students on how to make choices in a crisis: What would reasonable people appropriately expect? And how do we shape those expectations?
Those criteria seem to work quite well here: Twenty years ago, most people did not expect to find an email address on a business card. Now it’s completely expected. The jury seems still to be out on blogs and Twitter; it’s more of a personal choice, or a set of expectations of the individual business card owner.
But the question of business cards is a relatively trivial microcosm of a much larger phenomenon. A recent surge in connectivity has changed expectations of when one is on the job and how to connect with colleagues.
“…and then the Internet happened and everything changed.”
It seems almost trite these days to note that the Internet changed everything. It did.
But I believe along the way there was one other event that took that change and supercharged it. Until just a few years ago, most Internet developments were self-contained: Search engines (Google), online video (YouTube), news, finance, entertainment, email, phones, Skype, etc. And we experienced them one at a time.
Then in June, 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone.
CEO Steve Jobs said that Apple had reinvented the phone. And they had.
But they also, eventually, reinvented our sense of connectivity. On one device we now had a phone, our music, and the Internet. And with the introduction of apps, within a few years suddenly our phones were capable of just about anything. (I once transferred money to my college-student daughter in Boston from the back seat of a taxi in Beijing, using just my phone and two apps — texting and banking. The whole transaction — request to me, transfer, notification to my daughter, took less than 30 seconds. My Chinese colleague was astounded that such a thing was even possible. Come to think of it, so was I.)
Perhaps as significant, Apple provided the ability to link the apps, so that we could seamlessly move from one to another — email to phone to text to calendar etc.) without having to stop and start, or even to understand how it all works.
That made it easy for someone like me — who knows nothing about computers — to use the device as if it’s an organically integrated whole. I don’t know how it works. And I don’t really care. I just care that it works.
If you can spare an hour, it’s worth watching Jobs’ complete introduction to the iPhone, if only to hear the audience reaction to his demonstration of how everything is connected. And to see how only seven years later, we take so much of it for granted.
So suddenly, whether with Apple’s iPhone or their competitors’ recent offerings, we can now access just about the entire Internet on our phone. We carry more computing power in our pockets than the Apollo astronauts took to the moon. And all of this has now changed our sense of what it means to be on the job.
Work is No Longer a Place You Go
And the integration of everything onto devices makes possible a new way of understanding work. Work is no longer a place you go. It’s what you do, wherever you happen to be. (So it’s valid to ask, should I put my street address on my business card? Or will just my email address do? My office land-line phone? Or just my mobile?)
This raises all kinds of work/life balance questions. But it can also be empowering. And the possibilities, just a few years into the future, are exciting.
Which leads back to the question I started musing about this Labor Day weekend. Why would anyone want their email address on their business card?
And I can imagine 20 years from now someone asking this question: Business card? Why would anyone want a business card?