People take vacations to get away from real life, and these days nothing can remind you of real life like your e-mail in-box chirping away every 30 seconds.
How you could possibly want to check your e-mail while on vacation is inconceivable to most people, myself included, but a bit of paranoia can do strange things. So prior to a two-week swing through Spain's Basque region, I set up a Hotmail account as a remote vacation contact point.
The address was given to just three people, who were explicitly instructed to send a message only in case of disaster or emergency. No updates about how my cat was feeling or whether Donovan Bailey had won the 100, please. I promised to check it at least twice. Exactly what I'd do if my house several thousand miles away was reduced to ash wasn't quite clear, but it made me feel better.
Web-based mail systems like Hotmail promise free global contact with those at home, and this sounded like the ideal situation. The obvious question, though, is what good global e-mail is if you can't get Internet access.
Beyond plugging into a freaky, coin-operated stand-up Internet kiosk in Barcelona at the start of the trip -- which conveniently had a red, one-click button labelled "Sex" as well as buttons for Hotmail and Excite.com -- I never did have a chance to check my in-box. There wasn't anywhere to get hooked up.
The dozens of Internet cafes I expected to see scattered around cheap hostales and pensiones never materialized. In fact, I didn't see a single one. This wasn't just in rural, one-road villages like Mundaka and Irun, but also in major towns like Pamplona and Vitoria, where tourists regularly wander.
Admittedly, a bank of computers would take space away from the slot machines in every Spanish taverna, but the lack of any remote access was a bit of a shock, especially considering that the Internet is thriving there, particularly in banking and on the tiny Web-crawling cellphones that everyone seems to be carrying.
Plenty has been written about the lengths you have to go to to find Internet access in India and central Africa, but at least you can get it. Deep in the Basque country, it didn't appear to be there at all. Even better, no one around seemed that concerned about it.
In the end, the hookup wasn't really necessary. There was no drama, Bailey crashed out in the semis and I enjoyed being out of touch.
Maybe that's a sign of a convenience that isn't really all that necessary after all.
Why struggle to check an in-box that's just going to be empty? The 400 messages you'll have waiting back at the office will more than make up for two weeks of downtime.