Once I year I step out of the fast-paced, web 2.0 space and spend a week in western New York on the Niagra River. We fly into Buffalo late at night and usually there’s an order of pizza and wings waiting for us when we arrive. It’s still early California-time, so we keep everyone up even later drinking beers on the back deck.
On this trip, the flight out of SF was delayed and we had to run to catch the flight out of Atlanta. We made it, but our bags didn’t. Our suitcases were scheduled on a morning flight and we were told to expect them at the house around 1pm yesterday — no problem, we usually wake up around then. No luck. Around 3pm, we dig up the info: there’s a web site to access. I ask if I can borrow the computer. “You know how to bring up Yahoo?” Sure, I nod. Then I wander into the spare bedroom. Noticing that Yahoo is the default home page, I type in www.delta-air.com/baggage. As the page loads, I think to myself that the internet has really made the transformation from brochure to front-desk. This change we’ve been talking about since the late 90’s has arrived. The fundamental usefulness of the web has shifted from informational gathering resource to communication channel.
A half-second later the page loads, and I find my way to the “delayed baggage” section. My file reference number has been helpfully highlighted by the delta air guy the night before. The web site reports knowledge of all three bags. Status? Our bags have been located and are scheduled on a flight. Sigh. A flight to where? When is it due to arrive? This website has transformed itself in my mind from the fulfillment of a promise to a pathetic waste of time. When I dial the phone number list ed on the page, I hear an automated voice. Oh dear. There’s a moment of fear when I see the network in my mind’s eye. What if convergence has finally happened? What if the computer I am speaking to now only has access to the exact same unhelpful information on the web site. As I crawl through the tunnel of spoken words, I recognize the familiar, detailed, useless status information. When I finally speak to an “operator,” I fear same may be true of the human. Luckily, that human has access to a computer with more information. (I can tell they are looking at a computer screen, just by the tone of their voice.)
Why is it that when we talk about all that is great about technology we usually talk about what could be possible? Too often what we find in our daily lives in using technology is sub-par. This holy grail of convergence will only work if the information and services behind it are meaningful.