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El Gismo Fantastico

Writ large on the white sign ahead was the word '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 motocycle 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 fifty miles of fuel left in its tank and my wife was dreaming happily of a divorce.

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

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 five hundred year old Parador set in the cathederal 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 though 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 EEC 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!

Lunch still takes two hours, email, if you have such a thing can wait and the population lacks the overworked and stressed appearance of English tourists, separated from their in-boxes and worrying over 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 one more vice, instant communications, much like the instant hot water of the 21st century. Much like the presence of the TV License fee and the Health Service we don't really have a choice in the matter and in contrast with the more laid-back Spanish, our growing national passion for email and the Internet leaves us looking very like Eric, my daughter's Hamster, as hopelessly addicted to running on his wheel as I am to my keyboard.

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 email while your'e on holiday, then you already know the answer.


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