Well, I’ve spent the last two days in northern Spain (or southern Euskadi, if you prefer), in Vitoria in the Alaba province, courtesy of the Raices de Europa cultural group. I met one of their organizers over the summer and he invited me to come a give a talk on their two-day (well, two-evening) conference on the Challenge of New Technology.
The people were tremendously welcoming, especially Alberto & Pilar who showed me around Vitoria on the Wednesday morning. Alberto also gave me a lift back to Bilbao airport on the Thursday, and we stopped off on a hilltop to look down into the valley. It was truly magical. The colours were vividly autumnal and, although Alberto was disappointed that a fair amount of billowy-white cloud was obscuring parts of the valley floor, for me it added a kind of fairytale effect to the scene: magical. The weather throughout was bright but cold, not unlike London.
The conference itself went better than I’d expected. There were two speakers each evening, and I was a little overawed to see the eminence of the others: a Professor of something, the head of some Institute, and I was up with the head of Customer Relations of Microsoft, Spain. Fortunately, she turned out to be a charming young Catalan (characteristcally named Montserrat) now living in Bilbao and who speaks English (and French and German!) from having done a business course in Oxford. Her talk was essentially New Technology from the Microsoft perspective, but flavoured with her own reflections, and subtly tailored to the regional organisations who were sponsoring the conference. Mine was a more humanistic and individual call for an equilibrium between the headlong rush into more and more technology and the need to retain a human dimension. More by luck than foreplanning, the two talks complemented each other nicely, and there were some interesting questions from the audience at the end. [*]
In fact, the worst moment of the whole thing was landing back at Heathrow in a tremendous rainstorm. The plane was all over the place; I’ve never been quite so nervous on a flight in my life! But the Iberia pilot took it all in his stride, brought us down smoothly and got a round of applause from the passengers.
I had a fantastic two days over there. The weather was lovely, the way of life charmingly distinctive, people were friendly and engaging. If they invite me again, I’ll be certain to go back.
[*] Including Disgusted of Mondragón who claimed an Imperialist approach (I’m not joking: that was the word he used) by the English Language to dominate the world of IT. Ms Microsoft did make some good points in defence, but was obviously hampered by having to use such phrases as “Office dos-mil-siete” and “pagina web”. I just pointed out that “imperialism” usually implied some kind of intent, while in fact no-one in England (or America) gives a hoot what words people use in other countries for their IT terminology.