Friends tease me, and my co-workers think I might be unbalanced. It's this technology thing. I seem to be walking both sides of the street, and I am not at all sure where, exactly, I will end up.
I will tell you frankly that I am addicted. I'm not sure that I am asking for help. I just think it might be helpful if I try to explain how I got this way so that you don't follow in my footsteps. The worst part of my addiction is that I am doing absolutely nothing about it while I am allowing it to consume more and more of my time. I secretly fear that I am even enjoying it.
You, dear friends, are the only ones I can turn to, so I hope you'll be understanding.
For years, I have been writing and speaking about the critical need to reintroduce the human element into travel sales and planning. I have been described as a "Luddite," an "anti-technology" poster boy, someone who would, if he could have his way, toss it all out so clients would once again have to ring up "Mr. Foster" to get any worthwhile answers about where and when to travel. I'm the guy who wrote one of the first series about "Facebore" in these pages. It was a less-than-positive commentary on the most successful computer application in history.
When I get my daily dose of people who want to be my friends on Facebook, I send them a form letter explaining why I don't practice superficial communication. The same letter goes to clients, who, I must confess, almost always agree with the sentiments. Colleagues in the industry are less enthusiastic about my position.
I've written about technology for Travel Weekly but always in a voice that clearly showed I was aware of my own ignorance on the subject. I neither use, read nor support social media. Sorry, I think it is mostly silly, and mostly it is driven by people with a need to shout, "Oh, please look at me and see what I've done today," a beautifully designed launchpad for those who embrace narcissism.
I've spoken publicly on industry panels about my antitechnology stance, often wondering aloud about the decline of human passion and concern in a world of lightning-fast data and heartless information.
All of which brings me to this addiction thing. Back around 2002, I decided that if I was going to be of any use to my readers, I had to overcome my fears and learn as much as I could about travel technology and, more importantly, mainstream technology as applied to what we do.
I started subscribing to every computer magazine and journal. I read every blog for media novices. And I made sure that I understood the essentials of operating a Microsoft-based system. I also decided that I would launch (heaven forbid) a website.
I interviewed several tech firms and ended up at Integrated Technical Systems in Naperville, Ill. I sat down with them and told them what I wanted to do, and they took pity on me and agreed to help. A rumpled genius of a guy named Simon became my mentor, technology teacher and co-conspirator when it came to doing something new on the Internet, at least something new in the travel sector.
"You see, Simon," I told him the first time we met, "I don't really want to sell anything on our site."
"Interesting," he replied.
After a long pause, he asked me, "Well then, how will you get your site advertisers to pay you?"
"Oh, I am not planning on having advertisers. We're going to be reviewing travel products, and I can't be taking money from them if we are reviewing them honestly."
"Interesting," he said again, this time more slowly.
I started to explain the content I had in mind, and he interrupted to ask me how and where people would be able to post comments on my blog.
"Oh, I don't want a blog," I explained. "There are already 3,623,000 online travel blogs. I counted them last night."
"So how will your site visitors offer feedback and opinions?"
"Well, actually, they won't. I really have no interest in what the travel nonprofessional has to say. Most of it is worthless drivel. I just want to provide free information with the upside as well as the downside of every question posed to us and of every product we review."
"Interesting," Simon said, but this time he stretched the word out a bit, and I thought I detected a hint of excitement.
So the first step in our journey was finding something that sort of looked like what we wanted. Simon showed me a website where I could look over 3,000 or so WordPress templates for various online businesses.
The creative process was fun, and it cost me a bit of money. I needed to have shimmering water in a photo on the cover page. Simon found a way to do it. I wanted to be able to set up a Q&A that would be honest, with no fear of reprisal from advertisers. I was fronting the entire cost.
I spent months reading my computer magazines and blogs, discovering just how much I didn't know. Simon decided I was slowing down the learning curve, so he started doing private tutorials for me on YouTube.
The website started coming together, and we started getting all sorts of positive reviews. Then we started getting actual business. Well, we almost got business. Our telephone numbers were unlisted, and we had not put our company details on the site, so it was hard to communicate back to us. But we eventually corrected that.
Content started growing, and we had large followings all over the world reading our reviews and tuning in to our Q&A. We had a database of sailings that was easily accessible. Good things were happening. I was learning WordPress, and I knew my way around my PCs.
Just about that time, I went to the Apple Store and bought a few thousand dollars worth of their stuff. I thought it would help me understand the tech revolution and assumed that my Apple computers and PCs could talk to one another and, together, help me churn out more and more pages of content on my website. The site, I was discovering, was born with a vociferous appetite.
I liked Starbucks, and nearly everyone in there seemed to be glued to an Apple. I just had to learn its operating system. It would make me technologically well-rounded. I also felt that I would not be accepted socially in a Panera if I sat there working on a PC.
In the interest of saving you some time and money in the future, might I suggest that I could not have been more wrong. My Apple phase was a major disappointment. I would lug my laptop everywhere I went, but the table would shake at Starbucks as I tried to get my Apple to play nice with my PCs. It never happened. I am told that Apples are best if you are a graphic designer. Well I'm not. I'm not even a proper typist. Apples are brilliant children, but they don't always play well with the other kids on the block.
We had hundreds of pages of content, and I was meeting people from all over the country who said that websites generally insult their intelligence. They loved the fact that we were not pushing product. We were pushing help and assistance. We made fun of phony deals and silly advertising campaigns.
We were getting more business than we could handle, clients from cyberspace. The irony, of course, was that we were referring a good share of our visitors to other agents because we prefer not to work with nonreferred strangers.
So we had technological success, but we were picking up all the bills and, to some extent, giving away business from many of those who contacted us.
At one point, we decided that our firm would not accept business from those who suffered from "humor deprivation." We put that on our site and we started hearing from self-described "humorless" people who asked for a chance to work with us.
The addiction started getting worse. I began watching programming videos and buying books, largely indecipherable I might add, that were meant to be read by folks like Simon. I kept getting mentally frustrated. I could not learn this foreign language. I did not want to do business on the Internet. But it was too late. I was already addicted to moving forward in whatever direction the technology seemed to be taking me.
(In Part 2, Richard Turen's tech journey continues.)