I don't want to steal your life, just flick through your medical records

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The Independent Online

I'm really into piggybacking at the moment. Don't worry, I'm not hanging out with my daughter's friends, being an embarrassing dad in the nursery playground.

I'm really into piggybacking at the moment. Don't worry, I'm not hanging out with my daughter's friends, being an embarrassing dad in the nursery playground. I'm talking about electronic piggybacking. Having recently gone completely wireless on my computer, I can now roam the entire vast acreage of my country mansion. When the time comes for me to put finger to keypad I have to make the difficult decision whether I write in the summerhouse, the middle of the maze, maybe, the boat house or even in the lion enclosure - the choice is endless. I can even take a little webcam with me and have a quick chat with someone like Leslie Grantham if the urge takes me.

As good as it is at home, it's even better when I'm out and about. My computer, like some cyber-burglar, is continually searching for any available airport network. Whenever one comes into range it gives me a shout begging me to take advantage of it. If you do get on to someone else's network, then this is known as piggybacking. There's no real harm in it. It's not like hacking. You're not normally trying to break into anyone's computer, you just want to use their network to get on-line. I know someone who lives in a flat above someone who has a wireless port and so he has never bothered to set up his own. He simply uses his neighbour's one. If they are both online at the same time there might be a tiny decrease in speed but not so that you might notice. I suppose it was a bit weird when he realised that he could look at all his neighbour's files and ended up seeing a collection of more than 500 pictures of himself in the shower taken by the neighbour through a little spy-hole, but, then, curiosity did kill the cat.

A walk through Soho gives you a new network to access every 50 yards or so. Most people are smart enough to put in security passwords to stop people like me using their networks but there are always a few who don't bother. If you sit in the middle of Soho Square you can access the networks of some of the UK's major media players. I had a great time looking through some of the medical records of some of our best-known personalities. Leprosy ... who'd have thought it?

There are downsides to this wireless technology. The airport business lounge jumped on the bandwagon very early on. This has allowed the "business bore" to really make his mark in the place. They can now basically set up a mobile office in the lounge and they use it to its full, mind-numbingly dull capabilities. They are always men, normally about 30 years old, wearing a cheap suit and constantly ringing Nigel in the Norwich office to take him through the latest sets of East Anglian sales figures that he's just downloaded.

Coffee shops such as Starbucks have also started to offer wireless zones. Presumably the idea is that you sit sipping your mega frappé latte chino, get the millions of emails that all your friends regularly send you, while writing your very intelligent novel. That is definitely what happens. Why else would anyone be sitting in Starbucks, on their own in the middle of the day, with three days' growth of beard? It's not a breakdown - that's a horrible word - it's a life adjustment. There are always a couple of them tapping away at non-existent novels, their inbox bleeping away every three minutes with emails that they've just sent themselves.

Having become so technology-friendly, it is with a heavy heart that I set off to Canada tomorrow for my annual "wilderness visit" to the in-laws. For two weeks I will be trapped in the backwoods of Ontario, the place, I am firmly convinced, that the film Deliverance was shot. I will be lucky if the little town has one telephone in it. Last year I was forced to drive for more than an hour before I found somewhere that allowed me to dictate my column to some humourless cyborg in London.

This year I have tried to set up my mobile to work with my computer but I've got to be careful. The last time I produced it near some Canadians they thought it was a bomb and hurled it into the lake. Ho hum. Only 14 days to go.

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