Editor’s Comments: A Curmudgeon’s Thoughts on Worksite Communications

Nov. 1, 2010
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web

I went to lunch last week with a social media guru…an impresario of the arcane reaches of the Twitter/Tweet/In-Your-Facebook phenomenon that has taken over a significant chunk of the universe with the use of tools that can get lost in your shirt pocket and cost little more than a meal for two at a mediocre diner. Still, after too many helpings of rajma chawal-a dish some Indians consider food-I waddled off no closer to an understanding of the situation than before. Perhaps it was the curry that kept me from grasping the big picture, but I returned to my desk, in the words of a long-ago song, “…bewitched, bothered, and bewildered,” convinced that while the promise of something big is there, an important ingredient is missing.

Being something of a techno junkie, I’ve ridden the personal computer wave from the arrival of the MITS Altair 8800 in 1975, a wonderful but practically useless box, but one whose front panel programming switches and some blinking red lights seemed to me the gateway to the universe if only it (and I) knew where to start.

Over the next several years new machines, operating systems, peripherals, and expectations joined in the race to somewhere, but it was not until 1979 we were to find out where, with the arrival of what many refer to as the “magic app”-VisiCalc-the first in the line of spreadsheet programs placing what-if exercises in the hands of even the lowliest of decision makers. In one fell swoop, the personal computer graduated from curiosity to mainstream business tool, allowing me the solace of saying, “I knew it!” Unfortunately this exuberance was quickly doused by the knowledge that in fact I knew not what.

Over the years I’ve accumulated, enough used and discarded hard-, firm-, and software stuff to buy a ticket to Mars. In the process I’ve watched while the physical pieces and their intellectual attributes have diverged from each other at the speed of heat, propelled as much by our adolescent infatuation with novelty as to the dictates of Moore’s Law (i.e., the performance/price ratio doubles every 18 months).

Today, I hold in the palm of my hand a wondrous amalgam of metal, plastic, silicon, and black magic whose capabilities outstrip the imaginings of those who set the revolution in motion to begin with, and whose sheer computational capacity rivals that of machines of yore filling football-field sized enclosures. But what does this have to do with worksite communications?

As with the computer several decades back, I’m convinced we’re on the threshold of something momentous, but despite the several hundred million mostly young people messaging one another with information running the gamut from earth-shattering to trivial, an overarching magic app or perhaps what you might call a hard target has yet to burst into clear view.

What we do have for certain, however, are the tools-the handhelds, netbooks, laptops, PDAs, and a mushrooming collection of mobile devices-that allow us to access or share information from and to nearly every place on the planet. But even more on point are the applications proliferating in virtually every field of endeavor…and in some cases approaching a critical mass. Consider, for instance, the health care industry, where a survey this past spring showed that a third of all physicians use some sort of mobile device to access medical information. Can you imagine that this will not approach totality in the very near future?

Already, many contractors make use of two-way devices not just for verbal communication among managers, supervisors, and equipment operators, but also to transmit activity data between office systems and on-site machines. The central issue in both these cases lies in their relevance to a critical job-site objective and their strict adherence to well-defined operating procedures. And it’s here that I think the backdrop of social media with its acceptance of the anything goes mentality presents a genuine challenge. Information vital to workflow or safety? Absolutely! Touchy-feely stuff? Not on my job site…but how can you know or control the difference?

So I end where I began, still bewitched, bothered, and bewildered, and seriously in need of your thoughts on and experience with job site communications. I want to know how you’re proceeding and what tools and operating procedures you find valuable to the task.