Beep me at PAGE-BOY – 800 – pager systems – Workstyles – Column
Going through a pile of messages one day, I realized I hadn’t returned a two-dayold call to a coworker. So I did, got voice mail–and his pager number. I called the pager number, left a message, and continued down my to-do list.
Ring! Ring! went my phone. It was Mike from his car. You can always tell when people are calling from their cars, because they don’t chitchat. They are at once no-nonsense and preoccupied. I imagine a man who sees Mack trucks in all his rearview mirrors, trying to focus on business.
“I wish you had called earlier. I’m on my way to a meeting in Boston right now. Can you come?’
“I think I can make it. Give me the directions.”
I made it to the meeting in the nick of time, a meeting I never would have known about were it not for Mike’s pager. Wireless mail! Portending a future where you can reach anyone, anywhere, anytime, as long as he’s got a pager or digital assistant stuffed in his pocket. Since nothing excites me like an advance in communications, I decided that I had to try out a pager.
After a month of testing, I can tell you that pagers are “brilliantly cool,” to borrow a phrase from one of my eight-year-old friends. I’ve tried a numeric pager (Motorola Bravo Express; $199), which just prints the number of the person who called; and an alphanumeric pager (Motorola Advisor; $349), which prints a text message up to 80 characters. In the first case, the caller dials an access number, enters the PIN of the person he wants to reach, enters his phone number, then hits #. In the second, the caller delivers a message to a human operator, who then zaps a text message to the pager.
On the numeric pager, I subscribe to a regional beeper service, which covers the eastern half of Massachusetts, plus parts of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine. On the alphanumeric pager, I have a national service, which covers metro regions in the continental United States with 50,000 or more people. I could be in Wichita, Topeka, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, on the ground, or at 35,000 feet, and I should get the message. With either service, I get messages within a minute or two after they’re sent.
But it doesn’t take much to move beyond the gee-whiz phase. “Gee, how much does it cost?” and “Gee, what’s in it for me?” both move to the front burner. I haven’t done a comprehensive study of beeper services, but the Paging Services Council ( 333-0700) says that monthly rates range from $10 to $100, depending on the size of the region and whether you use a numeric or alphanumeric service.
One hundred smackeroos a month is high, but if you travel enough, the cost could be justified. You’d spend about $1,000 a year, but what if you land $10,000 worth of new business? Wireless pays. Of course, I’d prefer to activate the beeper service just when I traveled and not pay for it while I sit in my office. But right now, that’s not an option.
Two other things strike me. One, the perfect sidekick to a pager is a cellular phone. There’s not much point getting immediate messages if you dawdle about returning them, so you’ve got to factor in the cost of cellular service.
Two, the more expensive alphanumeric pager is a lot more valuable than the numeric, which just delivers the caller’s phone number. Often, the message can be as simple as yes, no, or the package arrived. If people can develop the habit of leaving short one-line messages instead of saying, “Call me back,” then the pager begins to simulate e-mail and would help end phone tag.
One way or another, pagers and the more sophisticated personal digital assistants (such as Apple’s Newton, AT&T’s EO Communicator, and Casio and Tandy’s Zoomer) are going to make it big. For the mobile businessperson, the benefits are immediately clear. Already there are business pagers, lifestyle pagers, wrist-watch pagers, pagers that beep or buzz or vibrate–it’s the Sony Walkman story all over again. Voice-mail messages, already too complicated, will get even worse, as people add their pager numbers to the list of instructions. Business cards, already loaded with fax, cellular, e-mail, and voice numbers, will have to make room for more numbers. Beep! Beep! The airwaves are getting as crowded as the highways.
Senior editor NICK SULLIVAN can be reached on America Online (SNICK7), CompuServe (76703,744), or MCI Mail (NSULLIVAN).
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