Being there, digitally

Viva Las Vegas! It's a magnet that draws conventioneers together to talk business - with just a little time left over for the city's glittering all-night party.

"Being there" is the whole point. So it was a bit ironic that press releases about the recent Comdex electronics show - always a Vegas event - crowed about devices that make it possible for us to "be" pretty much anywhere without even leaving our desk chairs.

Show organizers touted "next-generation applications that can take advantage of full-motion video and 3D imaging and finally make the videophone a reality."

Maybe it's generational, but when I put together "3D imaging" and personal communications, I envision the holographic video projection of Princess Leia that R2D2 showed Luke Skywalker - a kind of sales pitch on the whole Jedi saga.

Very persuasive. But when, in business, is such a virtual presence enough? Humans reach for handshakes. Business travel dips now and then, but never goes away - though tech-lovers float alternatives.

Two weeks ago, an invitation to register for a "Webinar" popped into my e-mail queue. Sponsored by a high-tech research firm, it will focus on using technology to "streamline processes" and save money.

Happening only online, it's free to "attend." And there would be no need to worry about the holiday crush at the airport.

Do job hunters, too, want to be delivered digitally? A lot of experts predict a shortage of qualified workers in key areas before long.

Some candidates in demand may be asked to fly to interviews for days on end. But they might prefer to make themselves available only electronically, even if the home office is just off the Vegas strip. And more firms may decide to comply.

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