by Mike Masnick

The World May Be Flat... But Meeting In Person Is Still Pretty Popular

from the sorry,-Mr.-Friedman dept

For all the talk these days about how "the world is flat" and that technology has made things like virtual offices and telecommuting easier, some are noticing that people seem to be making more of an effort than ever before to travel and meet people in person. The idea is that, like the paperless office, the predictions that anyone could work from anywhere and never have to meet in person has become something of a myth. Just as electronic communications actually created more information that was then printed out, the thinking here is that the communications revolution has actually created more contacts, both business and personal, that people need to stay in touch with. While some of that can be done online, it increases the need for travel and actually gathering in person. The article also notes that, even on a personal level, new communications technologies have made it easier to meet up in person -- such as the ability to coordinate on the fly via mobile phone, rather than working out detailed plans for getting together well in advance. Of course, the article fails to note that for all the false early predictions of the paperless office from years past, more recent reports suggest that the younger generation isn't using very much paper at all -- and may actually live up to the paperless office ideal. So, perhaps the traveling and meeting claim is equally a generational issue, and the current generation of youngsters will be perfectly happy to never meet in person.

Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. identicon
    jo brian, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 1:58pm


    Slate of today talked same thing refer: http://www.slate.com/id/2158571/fr/flyout

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    dorpus, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 1:58pm

    There is a difference?

    It's still real people involved on both ends of the connection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Bill W, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 1:59pm

    Fact follows science fiction?

    I think it was in one of Isaac Asimov's Robot series that had a world where no one ever physically met. And when some were forced to by circumstances they had a lot of trouble dealing with the experience. I wonder, light heartedly to be sure, if we are headed that way.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Sanguine Dream, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 2:17pm

    Of course the youngsters are used to it

    The paperless office thing is such a big idea that it would be next to impossible for a single generation to instantly assimilate it. Kinda like the internet itself. When the internet first came about you didn't see everyone instantly latching on to it. It took years for people to get used to it and even now you have a pretty generation gap in net use in which mostly older people that didn't grow up with the net aren't as net savy (for the most part) as the younger generation (for the most part).

    So just like the net itself the paperless office will take time (like a few generations) to get used to. It may be tough on the current businesswomen/men but if today's elementary student grow up to join a workforce that the majority of is paperless it wont be so hard to adapt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Nathan George, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 2:53pm

    there's a distinction between daily work and relat

    the point of the book about the world being flat has more to do with the ability of people to work from anywhere, not eliminating live meetings. If you can work from anywhere you are naturally freed from having to sit at a desk so you CAN travel and build better relationships from having LIVE meetings.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    PhysicsGuy, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 3:26pm


    paper is superfluous EXCEPT when doing calculations... in this aspect there will always be some paper around. even having grown up with computers and such, i find it much easier to grab a piece of paper and scribble out a succession of equations, derivatives and integrations...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    |333173|3|_||3, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 4:12pm

    Re: paper...

    I agree, if the caluclations are to complicated to do in one shot mentally, but are not worth using Matlab for, paper is usually the bast way to go. It used to amaze people I knew that although I was considered one of the best at using a graphics calulator (I was good at programming in HP Basic, an dhad read the manual), I still used paper in preference for most things.

    THE world that Bill W is thinking of is Solaria, in The Naked Sun, a full length novel by Asimov.

    THe advantage of real meetings is that people do catching up and networking over coffee or lunch, rather than merely discussing the task in hand in the meeting. This means that they can informally discuss what they are working on, and improvements or soluions suggested. IT also helps employees know more about other departments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Mike, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 4:17pm

    Lets step back to leap forward

    I think that virtual offices, computer prompted customer service and the liking are all of the ways computers have ruined society. Computer and technology are great when used correctly. I believe whole heartedly that we do not know how to interact with each other anymore because everything can be done via a computer, being it asking direction or trying to get a question answered on the phone etc. Technology should aid in peoples productivity and careers not to take them away IE operators and live customer assistance. I would love if a company took a step back to forward themselves by actually having a live person forward you to the correct department if you are calling for something, instead of a computer. Lets take a look at the past, there might just be something that progression has overlooked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Tyshaun, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 4:35pm

    the point of the

    I'm surprised no one mentioned it, but the reason why my boss still makes me attend some meetings in person is sheer psychology. In person you can pick up on subtle phsyical cues the person is giving off that may indicate underlying sentiments that wouldn't get communicated via e-mail or over the phone. Also, in-person meetings a lot of time are critical to fixing "misunderstandings" that may arrive by people incorrectly interpreting e-mail and other correspondence. As much as technology is our friend we are still animals and remember that one of the first things we learn as a baby is that physical expressions of emotion (even subconscious) are a very powerful way to interact and interpret the world (as my baby niece is smiling at me from her high chair as I write this, I guess she's trying to tell me she could use a diaper change, but the smell kinda cued me off to that).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 4:48pm

    Re: Lets step back to leap forward

    You say "I believe whole heartedly that we do not know how to interact with each other anymore" and then go on to blame it on computers. What about suburban style development that causes neighborhoods to be long stretches of mostly garages (no more front porches) and makes driving the only way to get around (no more meeting your neighbors on the sidewalk)? That's a profoundly isolating environment in which to live.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Dave, Feb 7th, 2007 @ 6:15pm

    Re: Fact follows science fiction?

    It was one of the books in the Elijah Bailey series....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Enrico Suarve, Feb 8th, 2007 @ 3:31am

    Theres a whole host of reasons

    That paperless is finally happening

    I've worked in the same company for over 7 years and during that time I have got to the point where I am virtually paperless. I still print out code as I find that it's still easier to debug on paper (hurts my eyes to stare too long at the screen) but I can go a whole week without hitting Ctrl-P

    The main reason I have turned from a tree killer to an electron abuser is reliability. Systems are more reliable now with backups more the norm.

    In the old days I would save something to hard disk only to find it had pooched, so I would do a backup on a floppy disk but end up leaving that in the sun or on top of a speaker. If I wanted to share a file with someone I would have to find a location on a file server somewhere (probably with not a very good backup policy) and store it there, then spend the next few months requesting additional accesses one by one to the file and wondering which numpty just overwrote it. In short storage was not reliable so I printed out documents and put them on shelves so I at least had *something* when the inevitable happened

    These days I save a file on my PC in a location which backs up to a secure server daily, if my hard disk dies it takes me a day or so to get back everything. My USB stick stores over 1000 times what my floppy did and fits in my pocket (its not too keen on magnetism either but nothings perfect). The document storage and management systems are a lot more available rather than just for the elite few and allow me to easily store a document in an area with full automated version control and simple access management, which I can control as a user directly without too much admin assistance - ergo I don't feel the need to print out everything, most documents survive longer than their usefulness rather than the other way around

    Meetings however still lack something without the physical presence, I work from home so I know all about not meeting people face to face. The most productive meetings are definitely the ones where you meet face to face, it is easy to spot the nuances as per Tyshaun's post - also it's easy to spot that that guy over there isn't paying attention and is actually going through his emails. Like Beelzebub stated lunches and coffee breaks are great places to do additional work but I would still argue that face to face meetings themselves are important right now. Who knows once online video meetings improve (which they will) even this will be encroached on, remember the cool turny video screens on seats Wesley Snipes shot the shit out of in Demolition Man?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Eric, Feb 8th, 2007 @ 9:08am

    On the paperless office

    I don't use paper and I don't miss it. The fact is that it's easy to misplace, impossible to search, and a pain to do anything useful with the information. So I quit using it, and insist on using my laptop for everything from note taking to brainstorming to looking at documents.

    A lot of the older guys still print out just about everything - so it definitely seems like a generation gap thing.

    I'd also say the same thing is true with meetings. Teenagers treat all communication equally: a conversation is still just as "real" whether it occurs on IM, MySpace, text messages, or face to face. I notice the same isn't true of the older people in my office - although they use IM, they never really have conversations with it (but they do with email, which is weird)

    Neither paper nor human contact will ever disappear completely. But I do think their importance will diminish over time as the older people with old habits get phased out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Grainger, Feb 8th, 2007 @ 9:17am

    Why Ship Bodies?

    ...transporting human bodies around the planet is a VERY expensive and slow method of communication.

    Most business communications do not require or benefit from face to face word-speaking.

    Some sales/marketing communications might benefit from in-person processes, but that effect probably stems from residual cultural custom rather than hard fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 8th, 2007 @ 1:07pm

    No paper here

    I remember years ago commuting to work. All those people with their modern A5 format lap-tops doing their business. I went on a train the other day - now I have glasses - they appear to be reading books.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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