No work on holiday please

8th June 2001 at 01:00
If you're on a beach during the summer holidays, take a look around at the number of people using mobile phones.

It's like a railway carriage in swimwear - everyone's using this bit of time to catch up on the all the conversations they couldn't fit into the rest of the day.

And you can be sure that, even though it's the holiday and we're meant to get away from the worrying world of work, many of these beach phone calls are to do with work. It might be "just a quick call", checking some issue left unresolved. Or it might be making arrangements for when you get back. Or someone checking on something for which only you have the answer. But it's still all work.

Teaching, more than most professions, blurs the boundaries between home and work. Whether it's marking on the kitchen table or using up your own free time for a school trip, teachers have long been accustomed to work trespassing into the home.

But the leaps and bounds of mobile technology now mean that you're not safe from the long arm of the workplace anywhere in the world. All it takes is a phone call or an email and you're plunged back into the discussion about timetables and tests that you thought you'd left behind.

And it's not just mobile phones that are keeping us in range of the guilt and stress of work. You might find yourself travelling with one of those nifty palmtops, or a personal organiser or a laptop computer. These are all getting easier to use online and it's only a short step then to plugging into your mobile or a phone socket to check your emails - you know, just in case.

But why would anyone want to set up an office in exile when they're meant to be getting away from it all?

Well, see if this sounds familiar. There's always some piece of work that you meant to get finished, but there wasn't quite time. What you need is a bit of space, a few hours with no other pressures. And you've got that laptop, a long loan from the school until you get your own, and since you're going to be away for a fortnight, it wouldn't take up much time if you took that bit of work with you. It would save so much time for when you got back. And there's bound to be a day when the kids are off somewhere else and you could settle down in the hotel room for a few hours and finish it off. It almost sounds relaxing.

The next thing is you're packing the laptop in the luggage, thinking how useful it will be while you're there. And you probably have even more improbable writing schemes, since you have the laptop anyway, uch as beginning a brilliant novel or writing a witty letter to the papers about workload.

But this is where the portable revolution suffers a setback. Because when you try to pack the laptop into your luggage, you discover that in fact the laptop is luggage. Once assembled with all its attendant plugs and chargers, the conventional laptop becomes the size of suitcase and with every step you take, it doubles in weight. Portability, you might say, is in the eye of the bag-holder.

You might also discover, much to your amusement, that the batteries hardly last any time at all, despite all the claims to the contrary, and that any thoughts of writing on a balcony can be forgotten, unless you've a huge extension lead and a travel adaptor.

So what can you do about this? You could leave all the gadgets at home and say enough is enough. But in practice, people want to be able to stay in touch, and mobile phones and computers of one kind or another are going to continue being taken on holiday. So perhaps the most practical approach is to ensure that mobile technology is really mobile.

That means forgetting the wardrobe-sized laptop and getting your emails on a palmtop or personal organiser. These are the kinds of technology that really can be carried and could be used while you laze on the beach. And if all you want is to check email, why do you need anything bigger?

If you need to write anything more substantial or want to view Internet pages, then consider something like the Psion Series 7. This is much smaller and lighter than a laptop, but still has a "proper" screen and keyboard. It is genuinely portable, about the size of a hardback novel, and importantly it has rechargeable batteries that let you work unplugged for a full day.

This halfway house between an organiser and a laptop would be a useful alternative for the traveller who doesn't want to end up feeling like the donkey giving rides on the beach, laden down with computers, techno-clutter and cabling.

Because all those wires and plugs can begin to seem like a holiday nightmare. You've got chargers for the mobile phone and the video camera, then if you have an electronic organiser, that'll need to be powered up. And then if you're using a laptop or a notebook, there'll be power cables and a line running into the phone socket. Suddenly your holiday has become an electricians' roadshow.

It's almost enough to make you want to be back at workI I did say almost!

Sean Coughlan is a freelance writer

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