Wire wheels, Wired world
by Simon Baddeley

I sometimes feel I'm in a dream, so oddly different are the experiences of time and place I've been having recently. What I'm trying to convey is that I'm 57, and all my life phones have been in a fixed place and I have been a car driver and computers have been too hefty to move around. This has changed--is still changing, and will change more. I have long believed that the agenda that run behind these proliferating information technologies relate to transformed experiences of time, pace, place and the boundaries that have defined our understanding of work and play, and divided our days and weeks into specialised chunks of dedicated time. Being on a bicycle is just one of the ingredients.

I'm walking my bicycle down a grassy lane deep in the Gloucestershire countryside and my mother--in her 80's--phones me from a mountainside in the Highlands of Scotland to reassure me that she's been in and out of hospital and is now feeling OK. We talk as I wheel through the old wagon tracks, shaded from sounds of traffic and the sight of any other human being. Across the fields a buzzard circles, mewing.

I'm cycling along the canal towpath beneath a busy motorway interchange. My phone buzzes--or rather, being set to silent, vibrates--in my front pocket. I reach for the ear piece in my lapel and take a call, chatting as I hurry to a lecture along the tow path that passes through the campus. My hand-outs are no longer on paper (it so heavy, and wasteful of wood pulp); instead I circulate floppy disks loaded with the relevant reading material, and ensure that anyone without access to a computer has a helper who will supply hard copies. I've arranged with the library to put my main reading list at a URL with hyperlinks to relevant published material. But I still encourage people to keep long hand notes, respect writing and the bound book: "Submit your work in any medium."

Another time it is me with my daughter cycling along a high narrow country road near Pitlochry, and my wife in the city rings to discuss my son's exam choices, as he sits on a bus phoning home after a tutorial. Next come two calls to lobby people badly needed to attend a public meeting in two weeks' time and argue against a planning application to build over allotments near my home. I refer them to our website to ensure they get the details--a site I added more material to while at a B & B the night before, linking my notebook to the phone jack with the landlady's permission. She'd not had any guests ask to use the phone for that purpose before but was delighted to see her place advertised on the local tourism website which I called up for her.

I'm relaxing in an English country churchyard on a working Sunday with a pile of exam papers beside me. I work through them, occasionally taking an office call ("Hope you don't mind me ringing you at home"--"Of course not, go ahead") using my headset so as not to waste an arm holding the phone. Butterflies and other insects wander through the quietness while motes of sunlight slide across greenery and gravestones. At lunch I open my picnic and enjoy a chilled white wine, fresh bread and cheese.

In the bustle of a noisy restaurant I make an appointment and we use my mobile phone with my notebook to down- and up-load e-mail. In an interval between using the Internet my daughter asks through the messaging service when I can meet her from school.

I cross central London from mainline station to mainline station on my folding bike in the morning rush hour. First from Euston, arriving from Birmingham, I'm deep in traffic, then I cut on foot through a narrow alley and a quiet square, then back in traffic but passing through it at such a pace I seem in a different dimension (along with the other cyclists); then across park land, down a pedestrian underpass and through a park again. I travel through London by cycling, walking, scooting in almost a beeline to catch my train south. The sense of freedom is exhilarating, and a sense of misery and stress connected with other events in my life is temporarily dispelled by my exertions.

In a seminar room where I am leading a discussion on organisational strategy for a one day course I've been contracted to run, I call up the organisation's key documents from its web site via my mobile and, using a data projector, display the site on a large screen where the whole group can interrogate the material there.

I make a lot of use of video interview material but have always felt frustrated by the shortcomings of the VCR. Now I download the video from my camera almost straight onto my hard disk, edit it in a spare moment (at home, in a restaurant, on the train, in that same graveyard), and can now place 7 or 8 videos on the screen at the same time in little windows, moving between them to convey the quality of an organisation's culture from the discourse of its staff at different levels.

On the train other passengers glance at me, sometimes quizzically, as I release occasional tears of laughter or sadness while watching a DVD movie on my notebook, enjoying the soundtrack and music through well-screened earphones.

It is pouring rain turning into sleet. Sheets of it blast across the dual carriageway as cars swirl by, spraying me with wet. It's dark and cold. I've been in town doing my Christmas shopping--it's piled up in the trailer behind my bike. At home it'll be warm. There'll be a wood fire. I am well clothed and waterproofed. The cars whiz by but I feel safe with my lights and reflective clothes, and delighted to be on my bike and not experiencing the seasonal congestion and impossibilities of parking.

I get my daughter's mobile bill. She hadn't realised that her free calls didn't extend to phoning another company's mobile--as owned by a boy she's met on the net whose teen face is now down-loaded as a screen saver on her notebook. "Hey dad" she tells me proudly "I've had 1000 hits on my website."

"Good going. Now, too bad you're grounded until you've learned how to watch your phone use."

Simon Baddeley, School of Public Policy, University of Birmingham, U.K.