Magazine article American Journalism Review

Global Village Idiots

Magazine article American Journalism Review

Global Village Idiots

Article excerpt

Looking for @ in all the wrong places.

In a cramped corner of a Zurich hotel lobby a few weeks ago, I got a humbling little reminder of the human limitations of the communications revolution.

Toward the end of a too-brief continental vacation, my reverie was interrupted when I checked into that Swiss hotel and found a fax waiting for me. It was an apologetic note from my office about a matter that required prompt attention. I was directed to the hotel's "Internet station"--a laptop computer chained to a desk next to the reservation counter.

I dropped my bags, confronted the screen and bravely slogged through the German directions to get to the Web. Then I prepared to send the critical e-mail that promised to unstick those bureaucratic wheels more than 3,000 miles away. The computer keyboard, while generally familiar, was different from those back in the States and took some getting used to. The punctuation marks were all over the place, and the Z and Y keys had been transposed ("Greetings from Yurich# wish zou were here^").

But what really threw me was the @ key. If your aim is to send an e-mail, that's a fairly important key. On American keyboards, of course, you obtain it by hitting Shift 2; most of us do it dozens of times a day without thinking. But on this keyboard, the @ was one of two symbols over the 2, and nothing--not the Shift key, not the Control command not the Alt command, not even that stupid Windows command key (what does it do?)--would make the @ materialize. Nor would various combinations of same.

I prevailed on the Swiss desk clerk for assistance. …

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