Offline Mode

Offline Mode

Just ten years ago, business travel involved spending hours (sometimes even whole days) disconnected from your business. (Think about that!) After being stuck on an airplane for what seemed like an eternity, seasoned business travelers would be the first to stand up as soon as they heard that familiar “ding!” that signaled the end of the seatbelt requirement. They would jockey to obtain the best position in order to yank down their roller-bag from the overhead bin. It seemed that the higher business travelers were on the corporate ladder, the more they felt a sense of deep injustice about having to spend two hours on an airplane, separated from their incredibly important work. The collective thought in the front half of airplanes on weekdays was, “Can’t the great leaders of the world do something about this terrible injustice??”

Well, they did do something – we now have inflight Wi-Fi available on many flights, particularly on larger airplanes. Business travelers have been quick to get on board, too. Recent data passing through the Certify cloud indicates that GoGo Inflight is the #3 provider of Internet service on expense reports, trailing behind AT&T, but pretty much tied with Comcast. Now, for just $60 per month, you can get a fast, unlimited Internet connection on most of the medium- and large-size airplanes flying in North America. The great leaders of the world have enabled us to stay connected to our coworkers and customers, even while zooming through the air at 600 mph. Now we can have even more instant messaging, even more email, even more headline news, and even more tech blogs. That’s great, right? Yes and no.

Before Wi-Fi came to long flights, I used to pass the hours at 30,000 feet reading, thinking, and writing. In case you haven’t noticed, those are three activities that most of us struggle to find time for. But before we had inflight Wi-Fi, we were practically forced to participate in these extremely strategic offline activities. I remember many instances of dreaming up a “next big thing”, and by the time the landing gear was deployed, I was charged up to go and make it happen. These days, I find that while being connected to my regular work life by Wi-Fi has made flying more convenient, it has also made it more mundane. It turns out there was something special about the inconvenience of being in “offline mode.”

Looking back, I can easily remember about a dozen business professionals that I met on various long flights. They were amazing people, and due to the fact that we were both inconvenienced and disconnected, we wound up having long and meaningful conversations. Oh sure, there were quite a few annoying pessimists whose company I was happy to part with. But even 15 years later, I still remember some of the stories those inspiring people shared with me. We traded business cards and then, as always seems to happen, let the cards go and did not contact one another. But during those conversations, we did something special – we connected with one another.

Psychologists tell us that social connectedness is something we humans need – something we instinctively long for. Our life expectancy can actually be increased by having more of the stuff! Now that we have Wi-Fi on board and business travel keeps getting more and more convenient, we wind up connecting with other random business travelers a lot less. The whole thing is a bit of a paradox. There are some real benefits to being disconnected from the Internet, one of which is the possibility of being connected with other humans. Don’t get me wrong – I do love the convenience of inflight Wi-Fi, and I would not willingly return to the bad old days. But these days, I want to make sure that I find time to be disconnected from work and from the Internet, so that I can do those activities that it seems can only happen when we are in “Offline Mode”.

Alan Neveu

Certify, CTO