London, virtually

London, virtually

The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Universe has become a reality. With the appearance last week of the first CD-Rom devoted to London, Douglas Adams's once fanciful notion about a massive electronic guidebook has come true. Armed with a £20 disc called Welcome to London, and several hundred pounds' worth of notebook computer, you can click your way around the capital.

Click: here's a selection of paintings from the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Click: here's a map of how to get there, with an option to zoom in. Click: tired and hungry? Here's the dining room of the Langham Hilton Hotel.

The British Tourist Authority is behind the concept, and is aiming squarely at the American market. Despite the dodgy dollar, plenty of surplus cash still sloshes around the States, and the BTA is hoping digital developments will haul some of it our way. Americans collectively own 17 million CD- Rom players. Last year, these computer accessories outsold TVs in the US.

The disc provides a selection of street maps showing hotels, galleries and shops at the touch of a fingertip. Details of individual attractions can be ordered up, laced with video clips and stereo music. And for those of us without the necessary hardware, the package can be accessed for free at the British Travel Centre in central London.

Technologically it is superb; editorially it is suspect. The organisations featured are almost all self-selected. You have to buy your way on to the disc, for a fee of £800. So only one pub gets a look-in: the Golden Lion in St James's, which does not look representative of pubs in the capital. (Also, all the staff appearing on the CD are smiling, which could be why my local failed to make an appearance.)

The British Museum felt that with 6 million visitors each year, it had no need to spend £800 of taxpayers' cash for a few megabytes of space. Realising that leaving it out would look silly, the makers have included the museum, but it only gets a still picture. In contrast, the Science Museum's entry is a dazzling video sequence. If I were planning an itinerary based on the CD alone, I know which I would choose.

When you look for somewhere to eat, you soon find the disc selection is aimed at diners wealthier than the average visitor. You can pinpoint the location of Quaglino's, and study a copy of the menu. But dozens of excellent places to eat, not to mention Douglas Adams's Restaurant at the End of the Universe, come nowhere.

Sitting ugly

The march of technology is getting straggly, with every individual and nation at a different stage on the path to digital enlightenment.

The only kind of mouse you are likely to find at the airport terminal on the Colombian island of Providencia is the one chewing its way through the frayed telephone wire. The airport reservations system is an exercise book. Your flight booking is at risk of amendment from a host of threats: obliteration by a tropical downpour, or erasure in favour of a more powerful passenger. So you are duly grateful to get any kind of seat off the island at all.

Elsewhere, technology exists to guarantee a place on the plane when you hand over your money. Book a place on a train next week, and you know exactly where you will be sitting. Yet few airlines exploit the same technology to help keep their passengers happy. Why, when I commit myself to a particular flight, does the airline refuse to guarantee a particular seat? I understand that travellers on full-fare tickets often fail to turn up for flights, but the vast majority of us are locked into unchangeable tickets.

Mr LD Johnston of Brecon says this is a hangover from "the attitude of British Airways in the 1960s - you'll take the seat given you at check- in and like it!" As well as adding another uncertainty to a journey, Mr Johnston points out that "assigning seats at the gate must be more inefficient". Does anyone know why the developed world is not noticeably faster than an obscure Caribbean island?

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
News
peopleSwimmer also charged with crossing double land lines and excessive speeding
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style