Heads up, multitaskers

I spied her a few weeks back, descending an escalator amid the urban lunchtime bustle. A miniskirted icon for our age, she deftly tapped keys on her hand-held personal digital assistant (PDA) while cradling a cell phone to her ear.

An office in motion.

Had some unseen pager started chirping from deep in her shoulder bag, she might have longed for extra arms, like those of the character in the illustration at right.

Many of us have harnessed wireless technology to a degree. Critics say it has harnessed us.

A trend toward convergence - that old Dick Tracy, audio/video wristwatch thing - aims straight at a consumer demand: for more access (to other people, to the Internet) with less hardware.

It has also invigorated the food chain among manufacturers: Wired magazine describes Sony's plan to "kill the PC" (by piping everything you need through the comfortingly familiar television).

If you tire of trying to keep pace, you might sit out the high-tech game for a while. But it may get tougher to get along in life as businesses begin favoring the tech-friendly customers they can serve cheaply (story, page 19).

Converging technology, you see, can serve diverging interests.

And if wireless is a boon for individuals, business is sure to leverage it too. Coca-Cola acknowledged last week that it's testing "smart" vending machines - run by wireless - that could monitor inventory and even adjust prices.

Executives dismissed the idea that they might notch up product cost, for instance, during periods of high, hot-weather demand.

But that kind of story should make us look up from our PDAs.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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