Travel wired

Sun, 05/16/2004 - 00:00
page 1

reprinted from Newsbreak November 22 2002

Grand Canal
Don't forget your digital camera - you'll need it.
photo by Alan C. Robles

It's a pleasant Sunday morning in Berlin. The sky is brightly blue, the weather's cool and sunny, and we can't find our blasted bus.

We, a group of journalists, are supposed to meet at an institute a few miles away. But when we step out of our hotel we find the posh Ku'damm avenue sealed off and traffic blocked for a city-wide marathon. The public bus we were told to take has been rerouted out of sight.

Great minds thinking alike, we simultaneously whip out our mobile phones. One of us gets through to the organizer, who instructs: forget the bus, take the subway at Adenauerplatz and get to the Ernst Reuter Platz station. Everybody hangs up and tucks away their mobiles - except me, because technologically, this is a moment that divides the men from the maniacs.

I remove the phone module from my handheld, slap on a memory card, run a program and read out the results: "Guys, to get from Adenauerplatz to Ernst Reuter Platz, the shortest route is four stations. We need to take the U7 train, direction Jakob Kaiser Platz, change at Bismarckstrasse, take U2, direction Pankow. Total trip time is 10 minutes."

I get that look. I'm used to it by now. Sometimes it's accompanied by headshaking, but the text on the word balloon above the person never changes: "Obsessive techno junkie geek."

Of course I take exception to that impression (I'm not obsessive), but these people can't even begin to imagine what else I can do. At the institute, I unfold a portable keyboard, attach it to my PDA, and start working. When I'm finished, I bring out a tiny infrared receiver, snap it into the nearest printer, aim my PDA at the unit and wirelessly print out my copy.

"That is so cool", says one of the journalists.

By the time I've attached a mini camera to my PDA and snapped pictures of the others to incorporate into my address book, two of my colleagues have asked me where they can buy my handheld. They don't even wait to see me show off my thin modem or voice recorder.

All of this stuff fits into two pouches. Batteries and chargers fit into another small clutch bag, but merely walking around with my PDA in a belt bag I already have a phone, address book, datebook, clippings, transport guides, currency converters, shopping list, calculator, world clock, country codes, alarm, schedules, a translator and several novels.

Your PDA will attract young admirers Photo by Alan C. Robles

When I go from Berlin to Prague, I have no difficulty choosing which train to take from Staromestska to the Muzeum stop beside Wenceslas Square. In Venice, I score popularity points with my friend's young daughters when they discover my PDA is also a nifty gaming machine. In Paris at the cheap shirt shops near Montmarte I use one converter for making sense of European collar measurements and another for translating the Euro price into pesos.

Over in the US, people like me dignify themselves with names like "mobile professional" or even "road warrior." It certainly sounds better than "demented dork", a sentiment I see in some people's faces when they see me using my PDA.

I don't mind. Years ago, I went to Bangkok toting a laptop. While the agonizing furrows on my shoulder have long gone, the painful memory still lives on. Now I look at road warriors humping their cool laptops - their cool heavy laptops, with painful straps, batteries good only for five hours and generating enough heat to iron their pants, and I shake my head, wishing them luck and plenty of stamina.

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