Travel Through Time

“The fu­ture ain’t what it used to be.”

Business Traveler (USA) - - TALKING POINT -

At one point in time – pun in­tended – there were six clocks in the main rail­way sta­tion in Pitts­burgh, PA, each set to a dif­fer­ent time. That’s be­cause the six clocks be­longed to six dif­fer­ent rail­roads that ran through the sta­tion, and each set its own clock by the sun time in its home­town head­quar­ters – the NewYork Cen­tral on NewYork City time, the Bal­ti­more & Ohio on Bal­ti­more time, the Penn­syl­va­nia on Philadel­phia time, and so forth.

The prob­lem was, each of those clocks was enough dif­fer­ent that a few min­utes one way or the other – as­sum­ing the trains were on time – could spell a missed jour­ney. Since ev­ery city in the United States used a dif­fer­ent time stan­dard based on the sun’s po­si­tion in the sky, there were more than 300 lo­cal noons ev­ery day.

Even­tu­ally the rail­roads all got to­gether and agreed to a stan­dard­ized scheme of five time zones pro­posed by Wil­liam F. Allen, the ed­i­tor of the Trav­eler’s Of­fi­cial Rail­way Guide, that would al­low timeta­bles to be co­or­di­nated and travel to pro­ceed apace for us all. The so­lu­tion was in­au­gu­rated on Sun­day, Nov. 18, 1883; they called it“The Day of Two Noons,”when each rail­road sta­tion clock was re­set as stan­dard-time noon was reached in each time zone.

Of course, nav­i­ga­tors on the Seven Seas had known about things like lines of merid­ian and the po­si­tions of sun and stars in the sky for mil­len­nia be­fore the first iron horse puffed. But not un­til the tech­nol­ogy of travel ex­ceeded our abil­ity to keep up was it nec­es­sary to change our frame of ref­er­ence.

In this month’s Tech Savvy fea­ture, A Mat­ter of Opin­ion (page 18), Rose Dykins con­sid­ers an­other game changer brought about by the tech­nol­ogy of travel – UGCs or user gen­er­ated con­tent, bet­ter known as user re­view sites. Com­bined with smart­phones and tablets, this web-bred phe­nom­e­non puts vir­tu­ally any­thing any­body cares to say about a par­tic­u­lar travel provider lit­er­ally a click away. And peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion.

The re­sult is rapidly and pro­foundly chang­ing the way travel decisions are made and how these ser­vices are bought and sold. If you’re a travel provider, you can no longer rely on your his­tory, your rep­u­ta­tion or your im­age; it seems you’re only as good as the ex­pe­ri­ence of the last guest, the last pas­sen­ger, the last renter.

Re­cently I was priv­i­leged to at­tend an event on the air­craft car­rier USS Mid­way, which is moored in San Diego har­bor as a memo­rial and a float­ing mu­seum. As I ap­proached the ship, I was

- Yogi Berra struck by the im­men­sity, com­plex­ity and sheer au­dac­ity of the en­tire un­der­tak­ing, a float­ing airstrip made in­fin­itely more com­pli­cated by the fact that it had to op­er­ate in the mid­dle of the ocean.

As I toured the ship, it struck me that an air­craft car­rier is a pretty good anal­ogy for what we do in the travel in­dus­try. Flight deck, hangar deck, bridge, gal­ley – layer upon in­tri­cate layer of peo­ple and ma­chin­ery, op­er­a­tions and sup­port. Mul­ti­ple el­e­ments, each a com­pli­cated piece of busi­ness in its own right, with its own tech­nol­ogy and vo­cab­u­lary and skills and pit­falls.

But what trav­el­ers ex­pect – what they pay for – is an en­tire ecosys­tem of travel providers. And it had bet­ter all work to­gether to ac­com­plish the mis­sion, ev­ery time.

Today, time zones are just part of our lives. Oh, sure, there are the grum­bles when we lose an hour of sleep to Day­light Sav­ings Time. But if you think jet­lag from cross­ing four time zones is bad, think about cross­ing 300. Time zones were cre­ated by the travel in­dus­try to cope with com­pli­cated and thorny is­sues brought about by change. Now we take time zones more or less for granted.

It’s that taken-for-grant­ed­ness fac­tor that makes chang­ing our frame of ref­er­ence work­able in the end. Af­ter a while we stopped fret­ting about time zones – and in­ter­state high­ways and jet air­planes and any one of a num­ber of other com­pli­ca­tions that throw our frame of ref­er­ence out the win­dow. And, yes, some­day we’ll even get over so­cial me­dia and smart­phone ad­dic­tion and user re­views – just in time for the next wave of change.

Af­ter all, isn’t that the essence of travel – to change our frame of ref­er­ence? To give us some­thing new to look at, and a new way to look at it?

Yogi Berra once said,“If you don’t know where you’re go­ing, you might end up some­place else.”I say, maybe we should care less about know­ing where we’re go­ing, and just cel­e­brate what may come our way when we do end up some­place else. BT

— Dan Booth Editorial Di­rec­tor

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