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`Geek handshake' is no secret

Photo from AP

A Palm Pilot displays information available for download via infrared beam to another device at a store in New York City's Rockefeller Center Wednesday.

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Information can `beam' between computers

— The Associated Press

WASHINGTON

-- Forget the pen and paper. It's all about beaming information.

When Steve Kan and his mother sat down one recent afternoon to swap family addresses and phone numbers, they simply lined up their handheld computing devices, pressed a button and instantly beamed complete lists to each other.

The phenomenon of zapping information via infrared beams is catching on for its novelty and convenience. Standing a few feet apart, people with portable devices like 3Com's Palm Computing series or Handspring's Visor can send memos, business cards, and even software with a touch of a button.

It's kind of the geek handshake, said Kan, a management consultant in Los Angeles. When members of his family get together with their Palm computers, we swap information all the time.

It is just one more way that technology is making it easier for people to exchange information quickly, without a lot of conversation or writing. Technology tools also make it easier for people to share very specific information, said Scott Chadwick, assistant professor of organizational communication at Iowa State University.

People intentionally select and edit what they are going to communicate, Chadwick said. Beaming is a perfect example of that.

Exchanging business cards is perhaps the most common use of this technology because the beamed information can automatically be stored in the computers' address book. But the ease of beaming and the growing sales of handheld 3mpting devices are making it popular beyond the professional realm.

At retailer Banana Republic's flagship store in New York City, shoppers toting their handheld computers can get a map and directory of the store beamed to them by a concierge at the front desk.

Technology is a part of everyone's life, said Cindy Capobianco, a company spokeswoman. We wanted to recognize that and make it part of the shopping experience as well.

A new television ad for Palm Computing shows its romantic possibilities: A woman on one train locks eyes with a man on another train the next track over. Just as they are about to speed off in opposite directions, she pulls out her computer and beams her number to him.

Chris Johnson, an information technology administrator in Western Australia, began beaming more than five years ago. Back then, he used an Apple Newton Messagepad to surreptitiously pass doodle-type notes in class.

It has risen to the level of an information appliance, said Jeff Bowman, a physician executive at St. Vincent Hospitals and Health Systems in Indianapolis. In the past few years, he has seen the popularity of the handheld computers burgeon among his colleagues so that the staff at the center now shares meeting notes and other information.

Consumers are taking greater advantage of beaming as more friends and co-workers pick up their own devices, said John Cook, director of consumer products for Palm Computing.

Worldwide sales of handheld computers are expected to exceed 5.7 million in 1999, a 47 percent increase over 1998, according to the research firm Dataquest. Sales are expected to reach 21 million in 2003.

The technology's applications are growing. For example, some owners of handheld devices also have infrared beaming equipment on their standard laptops or personal computers. That makes it possible for them to synchronize information between their machines.

As beaming becomes more widespread, it is beginning to alter the way people interact. Cook cited the popularity of beaming in Japan, where trading business cards often is part of a cordial greeting. Now, users of handheld devices are beaming and bowing.

`Geek handshake' is no secret