Magazine article Online

From Buggy Whips to 'Transportation Enhancement Technology'

Magazine article Online

From Buggy Whips to 'Transportation Enhancement Technology'

Article excerpt

I spent this spring going to a lot of info pro conferences and talking to a lot of people who feel that their jobs--if not their profession--are in jeopardy. The economy is tight, jobs are tighter, and no one understands why the information center has such a big budget for online services. What happened to the golden days when a librarian could get a little respect?

Of course, I can remember back when I had trouble justifying the cost of a PC, until I pointed out to my boss that my special library served the strategic planning department, and they all had PCs so that they could use Lotus 1-2-3, the killer app of the moment. I didn't tell my boss about how much easier it would be for me to conduct online research; I focused on what my clients were doing with the information I was providing and how I could deliver the information in a more usable format.

For reasons that elude me now, I have been thinking of Western Union--a company that has survived as many disruptive technologies as have info pros. Think about it ... Western Union started out in 1851 as the "New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company"--talk about a narrow focus! The commercial telegraph industry was still in its infancy; Western Union was formed 15 years before the first transatlantic telegraph was sent. Tellingly, Western Union started redefining itself almost immediately. In 1869, it introduced the first stock ticker--a great way to take advantage of its network to transmit information beyond Morse code--and it introduced money transfers in 1871. It was already defining itself as a technology company rather than merely a telegraph company.

You can now use Western Union to make payments to a family member's utility bill, auto loan, or mortgage. Today, WU identifies its mission as "offer[ing] one of the easiest ways for families and friends to send money and stay connected almost anywhere in the world." Note that it doesn't talk about how families and friends stay connected; in fact, Western Union even rents cell phones for customers visiting any country that Western Union serves. Its business is connecting people, not just transmitting data.

As it turns out, I am writing this column from a hotel room in Sydney, Australia, where I am paying about $30/day for a somewhat slow broadband connection--about the same amount that I pay a month for a blazingly fast connection at home. Given all the buzz about municipal Wi-Fi, in which cities contract with a carrier to build a wireless network throughout the city, I anticipate seeing a lot more free Wi-Fi in hotels in the next few years and a lot fewer $30/day internet access charges. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.