Barcelona, smartphones and faithful dogs

Near the close of the fascinating 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, five of my colleagues from IDG news outlets and I had an amazing tapas meal together. It  gave us a brief time to reflect on some of the more thoughtful, funny and serious encounters we'd had over several days.

Thoughtful 

One reporter at dinner launched into a fairly long discourse on how the fantastic pace of adoption of smartphones and tablets globally couldn't last more than perhaps a couple more years.  Another wondered when Apple would have to make a serious update to the interface on the iPhone or make a more drastic change in its hardware design, implying that it had to happen sooner rather than later.

Those two were among the younger ones at the table.  Myself and another more senior member seemed to think the wild pace of adoption of smartphones and tablets would last a long, long time.  Of the two of us, he said the trend seemed indefinite, but I gave it 12- 15 years, which seems like forever in the computer industry.  (Or maybe that number popped into my head because economies seem to run through recession-to-boom-to-recession cycles roughly every dozen years. Apple, however, seems to have completely ripped through many theories of economic cycles.)

The other two at the table didn't register their thoughts on the topic, but I'm sure would have a lot to say, if asked directly. So we had an interesting range of views: Of six at the table, two seemed to think the mobile boom was facing a big adjustment pretty soon; two others said the boom was very long-lasting; two others abstained.

 Funny 

Poor John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco.  Many of us call him the Baptist minister of switching, partly because he has such an evangelistic style when he talks with his West Virginia accent in public sessions. He commonly wanders through the crowd and challenges and prods comments from his unsuspecting listeners. 

This time, at a MWC panel discussion he was moderating, Chambers kept calling one of his customers David when the man's name was clearly Dennis, as his name, title and company were projected on a huge screen behind him. Each time Chambers called him Dennis, the man smiled and several in the crowd of more than 60 people twittered.

After a few times of being called Dennis, the customer answered Chambers' question by saying, "John, I am only called David in the bar," which drew laughter. Chambers looked shocked, look up at the name on the screen and loudly said, "Dennis, s---!" Then Chambers covered his mouth with his hand and apologized profusely.

One of my colleagues at dinner who recounted the story agreed with me that Chambers recovered well and pushed the panel discussion forward effectively. Unfortunately, live speakers don't get the benefit of a seven-second delay used in TV to bleep out their more colorful words.

Funny, but ultimately serious

Speaking of colorful words...my dinner party also got to hear a reprise of the language--in a thick English accent-- that two of us heard being yelled by an obviously drunken man to his female companion outside our small Barcelona hotel one night.  

The couple was fighting--seemingly all Friday night in the ancient Barcelona street below my window-- over whether the man was unfaithful to the woman. 

Their argument took place in  the narrow street outside our hotel, an area where the six-story buildings border the street to form an urban canyon. That meant that every time the man yelled, "I didn't even (blank) her!" over and over in his thick English accent, his words reverberated throughout the still night of the neighborhood.

My colleague told the story at dinner, but had first recounted it with me at breakfast the Saturday morning afterwards, since neither of us got much sleep that Friday night.  We had laughed about it.

After that breakfast, i recall returning to my room and from my balcony could see in the morning light the same man and woman sitting on the street outside our hotel. They were obviously disheveled and probably had spent some time living on the street.

He was still yelling the same phrase at her.  Each time he yelled, he would stand and pace and gesture.  They each had a dog, the man with a large, golden-haired dog, the woman with a small black-haired one.

After this went on a while, merchants in the street started opening up their shops while small trucks began making deliveries.  A police officer wearing a helmet and bright yellow jacket wandered close to the couple, I thought to make them move on, since they were sitting on the street of a mostly clean and orderly tourist area.  But all the officer apparently wanted was for the man to move his dog from the middle of the street to let a truck pass by.

The man yelled at the dog.  The dog moved.  The truck drove by. The officer walked away.

I remember thinking that in a lot of cities, the officer might have been forceful with the couple, calling in some assistance to cart them off somewhere.  In Barcelona, I'd noticed how the police had been friendly to me and other tourists, helping me with directions in English, taking time to point the way to my destination. There are a lot of pickpockets in Barcelona, and even the officials at the MWC point this problem out. Throughout the subways and neighborhoods, the police seem to be everywhere.   

Two nights at the Fira, the site of the MWC, the police were out in force, wearing heavy riot gear and masking their faces, perhaps if they needed to use tear gas on a large crowd that had gathered each night in the square in protest over austerity measures sweeping southern Europe.  Even as they stood vigilant, the officers were friendly to the MWC conference crowds that had to be detoured to another subway stop blocks away.

But back to the man and the woman and their dogs...They kept popping into my mind in Barcelona, partly because I know a woman who recently became homeless in the U.S. after losing her partner and her business in Missouri. She was living with her dog in state parks, sleeping in her truck and moving every few weeks from parks in Colorado to others in New Mexico. Because she had the dog, she couldn't go into regular homeless shelters, but without the dog, she would have died of loneliness and needed the dog's protection from others who might harm her, she later told me.

Her dire situation came to mind one time when i was in a hurry to reach the Fira by subway on the second day of the MWC.  Making my way to the train down one of the crowded tunnels, I found two police officers with their guard dogs standing a few feet from the man who had been yelling outside my hotel a few nights earlier.  He was lying on his side on the damp subway floor, perfectly still, as a third uniformed officer leaned over him, patiently speaking some words. 

The man seemed alive at least, if unwell.  His dog wasn't so sure, and kept barking at his master over and over. Smart dog. I told one of the officers I'd seen that man and his dog outside my hotel a few days earlier, and she said, "We know."

As I walked onward to my train with the crowd, many headed to the Fira, the dog's barking reverberated down the subway hallways. It hit me: The woman was gone.  Her black dog also.

Next year

The 2013 Mobile World Congress is being moved to another venue, but also in Barcelona not far from this year's site.  All the amazing things about Barcelona will stay in place, including the friendly people, the thoughtful tourist guides, the great tapas restaurants and the beautiful views of the Mediterranean. It's easy to see why Woody Allen wants to come to Barcelona now and then to play clarinet with a jazz ensemble. Next year, there will be another lovely opportunity for smart people to talk about the most astounding industry in modern times.   

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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