Thought for the day:Brits get uptight in laid-back Europe

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.The large white sign ahead said...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.The large white sign ahead said Espanha and, thinking that it might offer a more direct route out of Portugal back across the Spanish border, I ignored the directions on the motorcycle tank-bag in front of me and left the main road.

Fifty miles of winding country road later, we found ourselves on the Spanish side of the border in an oven-like expanse of plain. No cars, no people and a shaky idea of where we were on the map.

I guessed that my big BMW Adventurer had around 50 miles of fuel left in its tank and my wife was dreaming of a quick divorce.

"Don't worry," I said. "Although we seem to have fallen off the GPS map, there's a town 30km ahead of us and if we get there, we can rejoin the main road at Ciudad Rodrigo."

I had resolved to leave all my gadgets behind on this trip, with my only luxury being my phone. But when the time came, I failed the character test and smuggled my iPAQ and its foldaway keyboard into my luggage, which is how I can type this column in my room at the 500-year-old Parador hotel set in the cathedral square at Santo Domingo De La Calzada.

Not thinking that GPRS coverage would be anywhere near extensive on my trip through Spain and Portugal, I left my Blackberry behind, which was a mistake, because GPRS appears to be active in the strangest places and the Vodafone service reaches into the medieval heart of Spain.

It's incongruous, though, to think that in some of the places that we passed through today, the Internet is a meaningless concept to all but a very few.

And yet, with all the talk of "information societies" and "digital divides" in the EU government conferences I have taken part in, the reality is that the Internet doesn't appear to matter greatly to most people on the Continent and you can't blame them either!

In Europe lunch still takes two hours, e-mail (if you have such a thing) can wait and the locals contrast sharply with the overworked and stressed English tourists, separated from their in-boxes and worrying about the hundreds of unanswered messages piling-up in their absence.

Jeremy Clarkson touched upon the problem in his documentary on our European neighbours. The British are in love with speed. Fast cars, fast food and fast communications - the instant hot water of the 21st century.

Much like the presence of the TV licence fee and the NHS, we don't really have a choice in the matter and, in contrast with the more laid-back Spanish, our growing national passion for e-mail and the Internet leaves us looking very like Eric, my daughter's hamster, hopelessly addicted to running on his wheel.

Can there be such a thing as a compromise, a co-existence between the insistent and intrusive digital world of the GPRS-connected iPAQ in front of me and the contemplative medieval scene outside my window?

If you worry about your e-mail while you're on holiday, then you already know the answer.

What do you think?
Are electronic gizmos making the British neurotic? Let us know with an e-mail >> CW360.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.
This was last published in August 2002

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