The Business Rusch: Small World
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Yes, I’m finally home. I got home late Tuesday night and I’ve spent the day doing laundry, staring at my piled-up e-mail, and petting cats. This column will not be that complex because I thought I’d have a day between getting home and writing the column. Ah, the airlines changed that plan and left me with a mighty case of jetlag. So I’m not going to trust my brain with a complicated topic. I’ll save that for later.
So instead, I’m going to make some observations.
The first time I went overseas, in 1977, I was in high school. I had just turned 17 and I had spent the entire summer working as a waitress to pay for my senior trip. We had a choice between going to London and going on a trip to Washington/New York. I chose London, and have never regretted it.
My parents must have wondered about it, however. I went with several other members of my senior class, my social studies teacher, and two of his friends. We were gone for two weeks. We had to spend the summer studying the country’s history (we were actually quizzed about it before we went), and we had a long list of things we had to do before we could go. (I remember four parts of that list: get a passport, pay deposits at set times, bring certain items of clothing, and tape a strip of red duct tape to the outside of our luggage so that we could identify it as our own.)
We also had to keep a travel diary, which I did, diligently. (I remember some of the other kids blowing off this part of the assignment.) I still have that little notebook, filled with my rather loopy scrawl. I vividly remember sitting in MacDonald’s somewhere near the Tate Gallery, feeling grumpy that I was in an American restaurant while in England, there only to placate my friends, and trying to write down everything I had seen that morning. Typical me, blogging even then, if only to myself. J
For two weeks, we could not call home. We had no contact with our families and friends. My mother, a perpetual worrier, must have been frantic. She hated traveling, and hated it when people were late coming to visit her. I have no idea what she went through waiting for me to get home. I don’t even think I phoned her when I arrived at the airport in Minneapolis, three hours from home. I think she had to wait until the bus bearing all of the tired but happy teenagers arrived at the school. I do recall that she took me out for a hot fudge cake at Country Kitchen (where I worked) so she could hear all the details. My father was bowling, I think, which makes our return on a Friday night. Apparently he wasn’t worried, but that was typical.
Still, incommunicado for two weeks. England really was another country then.
I didn’t make another overseas trip until 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks. I was a guest at a convention in Nantes, France, along with Mike Resnick, Gardner Dozois, and several other Americans. We met in Paris, then took a train to Nantes, then came back to Paris. Dean didn’t come along for reasons now lost to the mists of time.
By this point, everyone had cell phones. But overseas calls were next to impossible. I carried my phone for the U.S. travel part of the trip, but tucked it in my luggage for the European part of the trip. Dean and I stayed in touch through landlines, making two calls per day, one to wake him up, and one to wake me up. We had a hell of a phone bill when I returned, and we purposely kept our calls short.
In addition to staying in touch with each other, we also had to keep each other informed of all the business changes going on. Business doesn’t stop just because someone is traveling.
Although I was traveling with friends, both Mike and Gardner were also my editors on various projects. I met three of my French editors, as well as the Italian publisher of my novels. And I made all kinds of contacts.
I checked my e-mail at the convention, using the free internet computers the con provided. (And using the French keyboard—very different from American keyboards.) I could only check the e-mail on the web, not download anything. Dean checked my e-mail at home and kept me up to date.
Again, I kept a travel diary by hand. I also brought five books with me to read. I brought books I could abandon in the hotel room once I had finished, mostly Nora Roberts and her pen name J.D. Robb, because, I figured, if I loved the books, I could buy new copies when I got home.
A lot happened on that trip, and I felt more connected than I had been in 1977. Some of that was choice. As a teenager, the thought of not communicating with my parents for two weeks was absolute heaven. As a woman in love, the thought of not talking to my husband for ten days was a nightmare.
Even so, we weren’t in touch as much as we liked, and I still felt like I was very far away from home—both physically and mentally.
In the fall of 2007, Adrian Phoenix and I went to France, Italy, and England. We had planned that trip for months. My French mystery editor e-mailed in June and asked if I could do a book tour that fall. We agreed to tack it onto the front half of the trip I was going to do with Adrian. Instead of being gone for two weeks, I was gone for an entire month.
I planned to take my cell phone. When I purchased it, I asked the authorized Verizon rep if I could use the phone in Europe. He said yes. I didn’t verify until a month before the trip, and only then did I learn he was wrong. It took some work to figure that out, because everyone I spoke to at Verizon told me I could use the phone for business in Europe. It wasn’t until I talked to a manager that I found out it would cost me $500 plus a refundable deposit for a satellite phone to make my Verizon account work in Europe.
I bought a second cell with AT&T, used their international plan, and remained in cell phone contact with Dean, as well as my editors here in the States. I sold two novels on that trip—here in the States—and did much of the negotiation by phone.
I also brought my laptop. I wrote e-mails home to a small circle of friends. I also continued my business e-mails as if I had never left home. I had wireless connections in France and in London, but none in Italy. I had to go to an internet café there. We were in Italy for five days, and I spent a good two hours every day in that café.
Still, I remained in touch and got a lot of work done while traveling. I wouldn’t have been able to do so, however, if I hadn’t done two things before I left. First, I ordered the international plug-in kit for my Macbook from Apple. That way, I could switch out the plugs for my laptop so that I could plug the machine in no matter where I was.
Second, I went to an electronics store and got less specialized plug-ins for my phone and other appliances. It cost a pretty penny, but it was worth it. Adrian also did this, and I have vivid memory of the two of us sitting in our gigantic hotel room in London, typing away at our laptops.
We were connected, but we were unusual, and people often commented on our laptops and our phones.
My travel diary in this case was both online and on paper. There were times when it wasn’t feasible to use the laptop so I just took notes by hand. I brought 10 books on that trip, jettisoning the first in New York. I had two copies of Scott Turow’s One L, which I had never read before. I brought the junky copy with me and finished it on the plane, then gave it to a friend when I got to NYC. I abandoned books all over Europe, but I bought several as well. I also opted not to buy the latest Ian Rankin mystery because I couldn’t get it home easily. The same with Robert Harris’s The Ghost which came out while I was in London.
Again, I did a ton of business on that trip, but as far as the business world was concerned, I hadn’t left home. I didn’t miss a day of e-mail, and if someone needed to call me, all they had to do was dial my AT&T cell (which I gave to the people who needed it).
Still, it was a costly experience. The phone bill for that month was huge. And we still had to pay Verizon for the other phone. (I had a lot of trouble with Verizon before, during, and after that experience. Their inability to tell me the truth about their service plans cost me an extra $200 that year alone. As you can tell, I’m still unhappy about my experience with them.)
I carried a camera, but didn’t use it much. I just fancied myself not much of a photographer. Mostly I took good research notes, and it took me a month to type them all up when I got home.
Fast forward to this trip.
I’m still with AT&T, but I got a smart phone last summer (an iPhone, but any smart phone would have done the job). I had a new laptop, but the plugs I bought still worked from the previous trip. I had no worries about connectivity at all.
Some other things had changed: I had a Kindle. As I mentioned in one of the travel blogs, I put fifteen books on that Kindle. I also brought 2 J.D. Robb books, but I only opened one once. If my Kindle broke down, as happened to a friend on a cruise, I could have used my Kindle app on my laptop to continue with the book or the Kindle app on my iPhone.
I did use the Kindle app on my iPhone more than expected. Whenever I was done people watching and I was alone in a café or restaurant, I read a book on my phone.
That phone made a huge difference in the trip. For someone who says she’s not a photographer, I took nearly 400 photographs and five videos on the trip, just because I had my phone with me and it was convenient. Having that phone made a great deal of difference. I recorded some experiences I might have forgotten. It was lovely.
I had the laptop as well, only this time, I was able to use it instead of my cell phone to stay in touch with Dean. Free internet phone calls as opposed to the AT&T plan. We still used the cell, but not nearly as much. And we video conferenced—at weird times, mind you. Two in the morning his time, or real early morning my time. But we managed to see each other even when we were miles apart.
Despite the fact that I told everyone I’d be out of town during the past 11 days, I still had a lot of business to do. I got a mountain of e-mail, much of which I diverted until I got home. Not because I lacked internet connectivity. Even in the hotel in Leipzig had great wireless. It just didn’t extend to the rooms because the old Soviet era hotel was made of concrete and so the signal didn’t reach. My limited time on e-mail came because I was so busy with the trip itself—staying at the convention until all hours, doing research, making notes, blogging. If I wasn’t careful, I wouldn’t have slept.
But that wasn’t the only change. The biggest change happened not to me, but to the rest of the world. In Nantes in 2001, the guy who was supposed to take our crew and all our luggage to the train station after the convention never showed. He might have been fashionably late or he might have overslept. We’ll never know. We had no way to contact him. After waiting half an hour, we called a cab and barely caught our train.
This time, I got the “mobile” numbers of two people at the convention via e-mail before I even arrived. When Thomas dropped me at the hotel that first evening, he and I took a few minutes to update our iPhones. He took my cell number, I got all of his numbers as well. Then we both updated our calendars so that we synchronized our appointments.
Throughout the trip, I did the same thing with new contacts, new friends, and people I needed to reach. Everyone had a phone, and almost every German I synchronized information with had an iPhone, which startled me. Several had the new upgrade, the 4G.
I saw at least a dozen iPads while traveling as well, mostly at the train stations. Everyone on the airplanes had cell phones. Most of the passengers had MP3 players as well. A lot of people read their e-readers, but even more read regular books.
And…when I got to the airport on Friday, September 10, I saw something rather starting. Those plug-ins, so hard to get just three years ago, were on sale in every single airport I visited. I could get a special plug for the country I was going to, or I could get an all-in-one plug for every country in the world. (You had to take the thing apart like a jigsaw puzzle depending on which country you were going to.) I could get a mini version of it for my razor or for my MP3 player. All of the versions were cheaper than anything I could find three years ago.
In other words, the world had caught up to my way of traveling. Not only that, but the devices and the connectivity made the world seem small. One afternoon while I sat in the lobby of my Nuremberg hotel watching people go by while making my notes, three other people sat near me, updating their e-mail, talking to friends in other countries, and reading their hometown newspapers—all on their smart phones.
Connectivity had become the watchword.
Again, I did a lot of business on this trip. The only thing that created a barrier between me and the people I needed to contact was the time zone. Instead of three hours separating me from New York, it was six hours in the opposite direction. But that was dealable.
A lot of commentators lament the level of connectivity that we have now, saying it becomes impossible to shut off and wind down. That becomes a matter of choice. But I have to say, having the mighty phone with its various features, having the widespread availability of wireless connections (and not having to explain why it was important, which I had to do to the hotelier in Italy), and having the ease of contact with my friends/business partners in other countries, made this trip an absolute joy.
The world is getting smaller in that we can communicate with each other quicker, easier, and in similar ways no matter where we are in the developed world. But the world is also getting bigger. The more I can stay in touch, the more likely I am to take a long trip somewhere because I know I can do the all-important business e-mail or make important research observations and back them up off-site without much effort. I used to have to Fed Ex my printed notes and disks home every day so that I would have a back up for my research. Now I just e-mail everything or store it on a server somewhere.
The changes have had an impact on more than just travel, however. I spoke to a number of people in Germany about working together on various projects, something I never would have considered without e-mail and internet phones and the ability to send large data packets without crashing a server.
I’m amazed at all of this. I feel like I began my overseas travels in the Dark Ages. The difference between the travels of my teen years and the travels I took this month are profound. Even the difference between 2001 and now are amazing. And I think we will continue to see changes in the way people of various countries do business with each other as a result.
Next week I’ll get into the nitty gritty of ways people run their businesses, again inspired by the trip. Within the month, I’ll get to questions people have asked about various topics. (By then, I hope my jet lag will be gone.) Thanks to everyone who e-mailed and commented on the last business blog.
And please do donate a bit to keep me focused on business. I’m doing these blogs during my usual fiction writing time, so I’d appreciate the financial encouragement to keep me writing nonfiction.
“The Business Rusch: Small World” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.