Rant: Death by (lack of) power points

An inability to get electricity means mobile workers scramble around for energy

There are, I suppose, many things worse than not having access to the electrical grid; we see them on the news, charities mitigate their worst occurrences and governments promise to eradicate them. But when your laptop/phone/tablet runs out, altruism and concern for others hit an immovable object and selfishness takes over.

People today talk about broadband being a human right. We connect therefore we are, to subvert Descartes. Only connect, says EM Forster. But you can’t connect if you’ve got no power and getting a charge remains a challenge in many cities where, as with rats, you’re never more than a few metres of a mobile worker.

Hairy-chested power-users find ways around this, to some extent. Adding extra batteries and packing spare chargers helps – a bit. But really we need access to those holes in the wall, to loose the juice or else we are reduced to… what? Visceral human interaction. Great, but if you need to send an email, map out a slideshow, hand in expenses so you can pay the rent? Nah, not enough.

As I write this I’m cadging power from a socket designed for a vacuum cleaner in a central London pub. I asked permission which was grudgingly granted but we can do better than this. It’s degrading to know which bookshop cafes, bars, hotel foyers and suchlike have power and don’t mind you having some.

There’s an election going on in the UK and a vote winner is to promise free WiFi. One of the candidates to win my seat (Twickenham, not my prized posterior) pledges her best efforts to coat the high street with free wireless. But then so did the two main candidates for Mayor of London. This pledge has been conveniently forgotten like Casanova making wedding-day vows.

But again: even if we have universal broadband that’s free as fresh air, it won’t be any use if we have nothing to connect to it. And power, like delivery means for e-commerce, remain the, all too often missing, final link.

Just as lavatories are becoming shared facilities with bars and cafes incentivised by councils to open up to outsiders, we need more power points. Our modern economy depends on being always on and yet we cut off the supply of the stuff that makes us effective, or at least make it difficult to access. That has led to a generation of knowledge workers able to mine the most sophisticated data gathering tools reduced to scrambling for sockets, begging for energy.

A plea: free, or utility-priced convenience electricity everywhere. It shouldn’t be that hard.