Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

The Wiki Man | 19 April 2008

A fortnightly column on technology and the web

My article last week (‘Mad Men are taking over the world’) led me to be accused of elitism by one of the magazine’s online readers.

What riled him was my suggestion that, rather than spending £6 billion on speeding up the Eurostar journey by an hour, it might have been better to spend a few million quid providing WiFi to the passengers, allowing them to make better use of their time on the train. I was told that this was typical of the ‘businessman’s arrogant assumption that only business passengers mattered’ — and what about people who wanted to go to Paris for leisure?

In reply I said this chap seemed a pretty rum kind of populist if he thought it reasonable to make the 45 million people in Britain who never want to go to Paris pay £100 each — i.e. almost the cost of a year’s upgrade to Sky Sports — just so Mr Egalitarian here could get to the Musée d’Orsay at 11 a.m. rather than noon. I also thought it odd to assume that WiFi is only of benefit to businesspeople.

In truth I am more likely to take a laptop with me on holiday than on business. And if there is one country to which you should always carry a laptop, it’s France.

Broadband speeds in France are spectacular. Every public space or café will offer ‘le wee-fee’ to its patrons. Amazon.fr has a huge range of English books which they will deliver next day to my bourgeois luxury hotel — or indeed to my accuser’s modest back-street pension. Moreover, there are many sources of leisure information you can only ever find online: ticket-booking, train times, maps, phone numbers — or the fact that the Musée d’Orsay is closed owing to a wild-cat strike by curatorial staff so it doesn’t matter what time of day you get there anyway, comrade.

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