June 12, 2007

Universal Communication

What's that? Well, the organizers of the First International Symposium on Universal Communication, to be held in Kyoto on June 14-15, explain it like this:

With the development of communication system and device technologies such as optical and wireless communications and IC/RF tags, the ubiquitous information and communications infrastructure has been spreading rapidly, enabling the use of information network systems “anytime and anywhere.” The rapid progress of broadbandization has also enabled transmission of large-volume information, such as ultra-high-resolution images and stereoscopic images. Moreover, the recent emergence of the new communications technologies such as Web 2.0 has triggered changes in social activities.

This covers the ground, as the song says; the scope is broad enough, anyhow, that they invited me to speak. At the moment, I'm doing my part towards "enabling the use of information network systems anytime and anywhere" by blogging from Philadelphia Airport, as I wait for my plane.

I can tell you that communications between USAir and United Airlines, who operate the planes on the first and second legs of my flight to Osaka, are not yet at the stage you would want to call "universal". In fact, they're in a sort of digital-bureaucratic morass of recipropal failed reference. The two companies can collaborate on a sort of referential fiction known as "code sharing", whereby I can buy what purports to be a USAir ticket from PHL to KIX via SFO, although the second leg of the journey is actually a United flight (with a different flight number). What they can't do, it turns out, is assign me a seat on that flight. The helpful USAir representatives told me on the phone, starting a month ago or so, that this is because it's actually a United flight; the helpful United representatives told me on the phone, during the same period, that this is because my ticket has a USAir flight number.

Was there any way to avoid this reciprocal failure of indirect reference? Well, I was told by representatives of both companies, I could purchase the two legs of the flight separately, each from the company that actually operates it. Unfortunately, this would roughly double the price.

Further attempts at communication are promised during my scheduled hour-long layover to change planes in San Francisco. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Assuming that they resolve the conundrum and get me on the airplane to Osaka, I'll be spending about 50 of the next 100 hours in one sort of conveyance or another, so my blogging might be a bit spotty. I'm sure that the rest of the Language Loggers will pick up the slack.

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 12, 2007 06:39 AM