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The problem with time

Jared Heng | Oct. 30, 2008
Time zone differences remain a key obstacle despite advances in communications technology.

In our current information age, cross-border communications through webcasts, videoconferences, mobile devices, and unified communications is an almost seamless experience. Webcams allow geographically separated family members to keep in touch during work assignments overseas, recreating face-to-face interactions to some extent.

While I appreciate the rich interactive experience afforded by such technologies, one problem still remains. As a reporter, phone calls are often the only convenient means for me to conduct interviews with people based in other countries. However, time difference remains a major limiting factor in scheduling such interviews.

This is particularly so when I need to interview someone based in the US. For example, 11 am Singapore time would be 11 pm New York time the previous day. In this case, arranging a phone interview that falls within both the interviewees and my own office hours would be impossible. (Assuming a 9 am to 6 pm work day.)

Consequently, the only alternatives would be to wait for the persons next visit to Singapore or an e-mail interview. Of course, the first option would be unfeasible for time-sensitive reports that need to be quickly posted on my companys website. The second one remains the only option, except that information from e-mail interviews understandably tends to be less substantial than that of face-to-face or phone interviews.

Here lies the crux of the matter. Technology has advanced significantly in improving live interactions across borders, but live interactions are still dependent on the availability of individuals involved.

What Id like to see someday would be technology that enables interviewers to leave questions on phone recorders that can anticipate possible responses. The recorder can then automatically ask follow up questions immediately when the interviewee gives responses that closely match the anticipated answers.

Of course, this does not mean that all the questions can be resolved within one session and the human interactive element would be missing. But it should at least yield more detailed responses than an e-mail interview, assuming the interviewee is willing to play along with the machine.

As incredible as it may sound, let us not forget that Jules Verne wrote about deep sea travel in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea even before advanced submarines were invented.

Jared Heng is staff writer for Fairfax Business Media, where he covers hot topics in the IT industry such as green computing, unified communications and software as a service.


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