Thought for the day:Put a check in the post

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.I had to visit my nearest Post Office...

Hard-hitting IT columnist Simon Moores gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.I had to visit my nearest Post Office the other day. Invariably, this is an experience I try to avoid as I'm sure do other people. The dull monotony of waiting for the person in front to finish buying a book of stamps only to see them suddenly reveal a large brown paper parcel and hear them ask: "How many stamps do I need to send a ten kilo package to my aunt in Abyssinia?"

The Post Office is, of course, a wonderful example of how much time wasting is involved with simple bureaucracy and how great swathes of paperwork and rubber-stamping could be replaced by kiosks and eGovernment, such as the form that entitles UK citizens to medical treatment in other EEC states. Why on earth isn't this available online? Does the Post Office cashier's little rubber stamp on top of my National Insurance number represent the equivalent of the digital signatures that we still don't have?

What was interesting on this particular Post Office visit was the sudden appearance of a bank of nine PC's propped along the back wall of my local branch. UK Online had arrived in SW19 and there was little doubt that the availability of the Internet was attracting considerable interest - although perhaps not as intended.

Each workstation, from what I could see as I waited in the queue for a cashier, was being used for mail, predominantly Hotmail, by what were very obviously young people visiting from elsewhere in the global village. No silver surfers, no single mothers, no ethnic minorities and in fact, nobody even faintly resembling the target audience that I thought the UK Online initiative had in mind.

Also interesting was the fact the Post Office had shunned a kiosk-style environment protected by Robocop in favour of a standard office set up of Ethernet-connected PCs. How long are these machines going to last in what is, after all, one of the harshest environments known to computing - unrestricted public access?

While I'm in favour of making the Internet available to anyone in Post Offices, libraries, churches and mosques, I don't think you can simply throw thousands of PCs into the public domain and expect them to survive longer than a year. While SW19 now has a "wired" Post Office, do nine PCs really make a difference and offer tangible benefits to the local community? I'm not sure I know the answer to this question and worse still, I'm not sure that those who should know are certain either.

What do you think?
Should we be kitting out Post Offices with PCs? Or is there a better way to allow everyone to become part of the information society? Send an e-mail and let us know >> 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.

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