Goodbye watch, goodbye briefcase

John
John Gushue
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Over the holidays, I caught up on some reading, including a stack of magazines that has been piling up for a while. In one of them, I read a piece about how e-readers - Kindles and the like, including Apple's much anticipated tablet - may be the salvation of the very medium I was holding in my hand.

(Incidentally, I've read far, far more about this expectation online, but that's another story.)

In another magazine, I read about what apparently is becoming an anachronism. Monocle magazine profiles the details of how mayors and regional political leaders around the world get on with governing. On one page, the mayor of Espoo, Finland - home to a little company called Nokia - talked about how she uses the giant's devices to manage her affairs, and her ambition to move more governmental forms online.

Surf's up -

Over the holidays, I caught up on some reading, including a stack of magazines that has been piling up for a while. In one of them, I read a piece about how e-readers - Kindles and the like, including Apple's much anticipated tablet - may be the salvation of the very medium I was holding in my hand.

(Incidentally, I've read far, far more about this expectation online, but that's another story.)

In another magazine, I read about what apparently is becoming an anachronism. Monocle magazine profiles the details of how mayors and regional political leaders around the world get on with governing. On one page, the mayor of Espoo, Finland - home to a little company called Nokia - talked about how she uses the giant's devices to manage her affairs, and her ambition to move more governmental forms online.

But on the opposite page, we met the lord mayor of Munich, who is a comparative traditionalist, reading a set of newspapers in the morning.

The telling detail, though? "He relies on his briefcase," read one caption, of a photograph showing a sturdy, but definitely conspicuous, briefcase. He wasn't being criticized or ridiculed; his old-school style just seems to stand out.

Old-school, indeed. Now, many people still tote things about, but when you look closely, it's more likely to be an item designed to carry a laptop and perhaps a few other goods, rather than a traditional, battle-weary briefcase.

I have several items myself, my favourite being a satchel I can strap around my shoulder or over my back, which is helpful if I happen to be on my bike.

I used a briefcase earlier in my career, but I felt like a bit of a fogey at the time. Now, even though I have a fair bit of grey hair, I think I would look even more ridiculous. I no longer need to carry a tonne of paper around with me. The web, and digital networking, long ago made all that unnecessary.

Briefcases are one thing; let's look at the hands that carry them, and more particularly what's just above those hands.

This is a story my wife told me a while back, after she returned to St. John's from a conference in San Francisco.

The keynote speaker was Sir Ken Robinson, the British author who's become a popular talker on innovation and creativity.

Robinson was addressing a large hotel ballroom filled with several hundred delegates. Robinson (who, it's worth noting, is in his late 50s) told the crowd how technological change has changed many of the commonplace things of daily life, particularly with younger generations.

To make a point, he talked about the wristwatch. He asked all the people in the room (around 800 or so) to raise their hands if they were wearing a wristwatch. Quite a lot of hands went up. Then he asked how many of those people happened to be under 30.

Very few hands remained in the air, reported my wife, adding that a healthy proportion of the delegates were indeed young adults.

They certainly didn't seem to be as surprised as their older peers, who gazed in awe around the room.

Which was Robinson's point: with so many ways to keep track of time these days (the cellphone is a key way, but far from the only one), why spend money and, well, time on a device that has such a limited purpose? (I still argue that watches are about status and style, but let's set that aside for now.)

In other words, we expect our devices now to multitask, and increasingly, we're putting those expectations into the things we hold in our hands, not around our wrists. It doesn't have to be a phone.

Look at the success of Apple's iPod Touch, which anecdotally seems to have been a hot gift this Christmas.

Its success shows that for many customers, all the stuff that gets packed into a smartphone can function perfectly well with one ingredient missing: the phone itself.

That said, the common cellphone these days often has technology in it that would have been startling a decade or so ago.

As Robinson's example shows, a whole generation is relying on their phone to keep them on track during the course of the day.

The briefcase, meanwhile, is sure to continue its path to becoming a niche product, if not a museum piece. Later this year, Apple is expected to follow through on months of often-overheated speculation and anticipation, and release a tablet - or whatever we'll wind up calling it - that will at the very least compete with Amazon's Kindle. (Microsoft and HP are apparently racing to produce their own model.)

With wireless access growing rapidly, we are getting used to a working culture that lets us put everything - not only a watch, but anything you'd care to stuff into a briefcase - into the palms of our hands.

John Gushue is a writer in St. John's, currently on leave from CBC News. Twitter: @johngushue. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Apple, Nokia, Robinson's Amazon Microsoft HP CBC News

Geographic location: Espoo, Finland, Munich St. John's San Francisco

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