Face to face
September 25, 2005
I’ve been doing a lot of business travelling lately — New York, Seattle, and SoCal in six weeks — which is new for me, since until a few months ago I was your typical cube veal. It’s a pain — only slightly mollified by my purchase of a pocket wifi router — but it’s changed my outlook on the whole business communication thing.
Like a typical engineer, I could never see the point in business travel before. I always figured it would be infinitely more efficient and precise and stress-free to do everything by email. But now I can see that looking someone in the eye gives you so much more information than you could possibly get via ASCII alone. You can send email back and forth forever without really being able to tell whether the deal will get done or end up with a reasonable result… but when you sit next to the person, their body language and eye contact and tone of voice tell you most of what you really want to know. And of course your willingness to actually haul your ass somewhere in a lighter-than-air machine gives your interlocutor a lot of information about how important the transaction is to you. Plus, it just goes against nature to do a consequential deal with someone sight unseen.
Not that I plan to become a road warrior or anything — although I’m already scheduled to go to Korea and the East Coast before Thanksgiving, and I’m covertly eyeing a 2-lb bubblejet printer — but I did learn yet again that even in the tech business, our bonobo nature trumps electronic communication every time.