Every loo should have a portable

12th July 1996 at 01:00
I heard a viewpoint recently that I'd like to share. In the future, the argument goes, we will stop judging a school's resources by the number of computers it owns; we won't expect schools to provide computers at all. Instead they will be provided directly by the state and will be part of every child's home.

It is not such a crazy idea. Basic services are crucial to each household, and we worry about a technology-rich and technology-poor divide. What better way than to subsidise each child's portable computer. Each morning, these would be stuffed into backpacks as currently happens with calculators. Or backpacks may hardly be needed, since most of the work currently on paper would be neatly stored on the computer. Until that time arrives, those who pop a portable under their arm are in the minority and meet with a range of problems pupils and parents of the future need to consider.

Carrying a portable around is still fraught with difficulty, based upon weight, bulk and value. My approach is to take it everywhere, just in case it's needed. I own briefcases fat enough, and handbags sufficiently roomy, for my powerbook to hide in a recess. On occasion I venture forth with it under my arm and, with a clean hanky and credit card in my pocket. What else could you need? And then I hit the problems. Once the machine is packed into a receptacle, I am carrying a real weight, and can't shop as much as I would like. Indeed, attending conferences I am unable to accept the delegate's folder without resembling an early Crackerjack contestant overburdened with cabbages.

So you limit yourself, and tuck it under the arm, and the world knows you are carrying something of value. I first saw the problem when a colleague needed to use the toilets and asked me to look after his machine. He almost insisted I swear an affidavit that I would not do anything daft or let it out of my sight before he felt secure enough to visit the gents. I teased him no end; now I understand. Not perhaps regarding the particular problems of temporarily siting a portable computer in the gents, but with the corresponding issues in the ladies. I forecast that forward-thinking hotels will shortly have slim shelves in their cloakroom cubicles, to save the owner of a portable choosing between holding it or placing it on the floor or cistern.

One of the reasons many people have a portable computer is to work while travelling. I tend to rule out the combination of car and computing, my concentration not being good enough to navigate the A9 and the Web simultaneously. And although I have seen those "turn your car into an office" plastic goodies in the Imaginations catalogue, I remain untempted. The plane isn't much cop for computing either, at least not in the narrow seats I book, but the train comes up trumps every time. The internal power source of my machine keeps it going from Inverness to Glasgow, but my own body batteries need recharging from buffet or trolley. I would like to offer advice to the new shareholders and managers of our railways: increase the stock on the trolleys, and forget about the buffet cars please.

Some of us can't get there. We are the portably challenged, working away at machines we cannot afford to replace, desperate for a coffee and a bacon butty, knowing the options are all untenable. Leave the machine in the care of that nice looking passenger opposite, or carry it to the buffet and back again, slopping coffee from your carrier bag all over it? There is no choice for solitary travellers but the ancient Thermos flask option. One of the selfish reasons I look forward to all pupils having portables, is that they will not be so coveted and my mobility will be less restricted.

On the other hand, schools will have to remember to budget for the redesign of toilets and canteens.

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