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