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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | THE BUSINESS BEAT

The High-Speed World of Generation Tech

May 30, 2000|TONY LYSTRA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jill Zimmer is coveting her boyfriend's personal data assistant, a pocket computer that stores schedules, addresses, even video games. She has virtually the same model, a "Palm Pilot V," but the one her boyfriend uses is the slightly newer, more powerful "Palm Vx."

In the language and lifestyle of professionals, there's a lot to be said for the "x" on the end of this little computer's name. "I'm a little agitated that I got the 'Five' and he got the 'Five-x,' " she says with a laugh. "That $50 more makes your life simpler. The upgrades are really unique."

This is the consumer world of young professionals, where cheap technology and a booming economy have combined to create a market for business-related gadgets.

Zimmer, a 30-year-old regional sales manager, is among an increasing number of executives and professionals whose jobs are tied to the technology they use. She hauls around a mobile phone, a laptop computer and Palm Pilot--all of which she pokes at, fiddles with and hooks up to keep track of clients and arrange appointments.

New technology behind all these gizmos has brought their prices down, rendering them virtually disposable as newer gadgets make them obsolete. And as a new generation of twentysomethings--reared on video games and electronic toys--enters the work force, it brings with it a predilection for fun electronics.

"I like this stuff," said Zimmer, who works for Camarillo-based Providea, a distributor of videoconferencing systems. "They're sleek, sexy, fast."

Like neighborhood kids riding new bikes, Ventura County executives often gather outside boardrooms and offices, observers say, coveting the latest, smallest model of mobile phone or personal data assistant. "I've noticed there's some competition with the size of the cell phones," said Janet Levett, president and CEO of the Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village Chamber of Commerce. "[Nobody] is hiding them. They're right out there on the table at every meeting."

The question is, do any of these things help professionals do their jobs better?

"I don't think so," said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Corp., who monitors Ventura County economic trends. "You see these people. They have these things out. They're poking at them. It just makes you seem more organized."

Zoe Taylor, CEO of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce, said the tools do make business more convenient for the professionals she works with. But she said executives also use the gadgets to enhance their image. "They compare models of the Palm Pilots: 'Well I've got the 'III.' 'I'm up to the 'V,' and mine can do more than yours.' "

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And it's not just high-tech execs who like the gizmos.

Lu Senicka, director of public affairs for Patagonia, the Ventura-based outdoor clothing designer and distributor, said she can't live without her Palm Pilot.

"I have carried a Day-Timer for years," she said. "It [had] rings in the center with pages. I would need to check my work schedule, but I wouldn't have this book with me. The Palm is small enough that I can stick it in my purse. It's nice to be able to empty your mind. You just have it all right there."

Zimmer swears her high-tech gadgets help her do more business. "The thing that I love about the Palm Pilot is that I can connect it to my laptop. Wherever I am, if I have a new contact, I can connect it and it automatically updates to my computer. Being in sales, you have a database. I can put it in the Palm Pilot. It makes me more productive overall."

The technology is cheap by the standards of years past, but stocking up on the hottest new items can put a sizable dent in a professional's checking account.

Personal data assistants, which are manufactured by Palm, Casio, Hewlett Packard and others, cost between $149 and $450, said a spokesman for Office Depot in Thousand Oaks. Cell phones can be fairly cheap if users sign up for a year of air time with one service. A pair of Nextel mobile phones--which include a walkie-talkie function that allows users to push a button and talk to another phone equipped with the same function without dialing and connecting--cost about $90 when a buyer agrees to pay for phone service. Conversely, Nokia's 8860, a tiny, chrome phone that includes PDA-like organizer functions, video games, internal antenna and alarm, costs $500.

The Motorola Pagewriter, a beeper that allows users to send e-mail and check stock quotes, costs just under $400. Popular laptops, chock-full of memory, fast processors and DVD videodisc players, cost between $2,500 and $3,000. Portable printers to go with them cost around $300. For a professional technophile like Zimmer to outfit herself with this top-of-the-line gear would cost about $4,650--and that includes only the essentials.

Young professionals, especially those in the technology and entertainment business, use cell phones and personal data assistants, too, but are also more likely to buy video game systems, music players and fast personal computers for play at work.

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