Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Virtually there . . .

As someone that came of age about the same time as the internet, and whose early experience of being "connected" was based on dial-up modems, 256k DSL connections and the ever-exciting experience of trying to download large email attachments in random hotel rooms around the US, I continue to be amazed by how easy it's become to stay connected these days, even in an emerging market such as Armenia.  I mean, given that a significant portion of my disposable income has flowed right into Apple Inc.'s market cap (and various ISPs/mobile operators), I'm now online almost constantly (although I do turn off all WiFi/3G connectivity before going to sleep).  While there's nothing particularly revealing about this observation, I do want to comment on a couple of recent experiences.

After moving to Armenia in 2008 (and immersing myself into my new company and local market), I slowly drifted away from the technology and business trends that dominated my attention span in my former life in the US.  I even learned to live without my beloved The Economist and New Yorker print editions, as I couldn't quite get myself to read either publication on a laptop.  Even subscriptions to various industry publications just resulted in emails piling up in my inbox unread.

Then, two short years ago, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, and the physical and mental miles separating my life here and my former life there melted away as the iPad became my virtual bridge back to that world.  At first, I started to read the web-based version of The Economist, and immediately downloaded their app once it became available.  I cursed endlessly at the completely user-unfriendly New Yorker app (I'm still convinced that their app is really an electronic middle finger aimed at those who would dare to put down a hard copy for the lowly digital version).  But, as time moved on, as internet speeds increased, and as FB, Twitter, LinkedIn and other apps created digital tentacles to each other, I began to reconnect.  More recently, I've begun to download interesting reading as PDFs and read them in iBooks (including McKinsey reports, white papers, investment research reports).

Several days ago, I came across an upcoming Webinar on a subject that I'm particularly interested (Predictive Analytics, in case you're wondering).  Tonight, as the appointed time for the session neared (8 pm my time here in Yerevan), I had a momentary (panicky) lapse into the past, assuming that it would take me at least 30 minutes to get all of the parts working correctly to participate in the webinar.  Instead, the new world of the cloud and interoperability magically created the flawless user experience: When I copied and pasted the url into Safari, the iPad immediately pointed me to the GoMeeting app purchase, it downloaded in less than 30 seconds, and I was staring at the start screen for the webinar (and became frustrated as the presenters were 7 minutes late - how dare they?).  I should mention that I was doing all of this while eating dinner on the kitchen counter.  Having finished, I took the iPad out on the balcony and watched a beautiful sunset as the presenters were talking about virtual data marts, Hadoop and scoring models.

What's the big deal, you ask?  Even a few short years ago, it would not have been possible to stay this close to trends, events and opportunities happening across the world.  Today, between MIT and Stanford's open universities, Twitter, Flipboard and all of the myriad ways to broadcast (and capture) valuable insight, physical distance is no longer a barrier.  I am just as "connected" as I was in the days of constant traveling, conference participations and being at the heart of innovation in the Bay Area.  Ok, I might be stretching this a bit (the likelihood of running into a former colleague or fellow GSB alum while buying coffee or having lunch is admittedly lower here), but the point is that it is possible to be part of the next wave of innovation and opportunity - it's just a matter of being choosy and disciplined to separate signal from noise, and taking the time to synthesize incoherent streams of data into coherent vectors of insight (that's my predictive analytics pitch).  Oh, and it also helps that given the time difference, you can participate in most webinars/online conference presentations with a glass of wine, sitting on your balcony and watching the sun set near Mt. Ararat.