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Of Telepresence, Presence and "Presence"

In many ways, this is what Cisco and others have been saying all along: Telepresence won't replace in-person meetings, it'll allow for more and better meetings in addition to the in-person get-togethers. (Note that the word "presence" in Townsend's title refers to the old-fashioned definition, as in "being there," not the techno-jargon meaning that we always use it for).

And Townsend, in his longer IFTF talk, uses a telling statistic to highlight the fact that expanding communications technologies have historically expanded the amount of physical travel that takes place:

The Internet is a fundamental part of low-cost airline business models. They are utterly dependent upon the efficiency of Internet bookings, and they are now the biggest driver of expansion in air travel from London to Lahore. For instance, on any given flight of Brazilan low-cost carrier Gol, 1 of every 3 or 4 passengers is flying for the first time ever.

It's a good point. How many dollars and staff-hours have been cut out of business travel and expense reporting thanks to improved software and networked communications? Are there further improvements whose cost savings might offset the increased costs of fuel?

One final note: As an aside, Townsend's opera example is pretty neat. The last time I took my daughter to the movies, there were ads for the Met-at-the-cinema shows, and I thought to myself that it might be something to try--though for the very opposite reason from what Townsend proposes: Not because I want to see if I like the show before I shell out a few hundred bucks and get all dressed up to go to the opera in Chicago, but rather because it just looked like a cool thing to watch in a movie theater.