I come from a time significantly before the digital age was even contemplated, let alone brought into being. Although I use a mobile phone, am writing this piece on an iPad and seem to spend increasing hours every day in front of a computer screen, I am not instinctively ‘digital’, am very much an immigrant not a native in this new world, and find increasingly that this state of being brings with it a sense of perspective as well as one of frustration when ‘intuitive’ devices appear to have no connection to my particular type of intuition. Though no great fan of instruction manuals, most notably those which accompany flat pack furniture, I have never quite come to terms with the look of condescending amazement my children give me when I complain that a new digital device does not come with accompanying printed advice and information.
I remember well when Fulston Manor received its first computer. It was positioned in the staff room, between the Banda machines, and there was great scepticism that it would ever prove useful or, indeed, that we would ever perceive the need to purchase another one. Even the acquisition of a first home computer, a state of the art Commodore 64, failed to convince me that the future lay in devices that, at the time, seemed capable of doing little more that electronic ping pong and Tippex free typing. It is a good job that my career choices did not include roles involving prophecy or clairvoyance.
Although endlessly tempting to spend time complaining about the operational efficiency of digital devices - lack of mobile phone signals, battery life, network crashes, printers that don't, endless upgrades apparently designed more to baffle than to benefit - I have come to accept that the overwhelming majority of problems I have with the technology is about what it delivers to me not the way in which it is delivered. Once having reached this all too obvious conclusion it is but a small step to the realisation that the problems I have are about what the digital age has unleashed rather than how it has unleashed it.
On an average day at school I receive between 200 and 300 emails. A few of these are from parents or colleagues, a few more contain important information that needs either to be acted upon or redirected, but the overwhelming majority are simply in transit from the sender to my deleted items, unless, of course, I wish to buy the unsellable, subscribe to the unimaginable or provide all my security details to the unspeakable. Whilst I would not suggest that junk mail did not arrive by post in the past, the proliferation of email does seem to me to be an invitation to the idle to mass communicate to the many and,more worryingly, an invitation to the unscrupulous to prey upon the vulnerable through an ever evolving and complicated series of scams. Although we may all by now be aware of the odds against a Nigerian general wanting to send us £10,000,000 for safekeeping, apparently official communications from banks and tax offices still fool the unwary and the elderly, causing intense suffering and psychological damage.
There is not the space within this piece to consider all the joys and pleasures of other social media which appears to proliferate on an almost daily basis. No sooner had I decided not to participate in Facebook than I was having to decide not to participate in twitter, snapchat, what's app and a whole range of other all too resistible opportunities too.
Let me therefore end by offering genuine thanks to all who send me interesting, relevant and important emails, which stand out from the rest like diamonds on a dung heap, and apologise if there are occasions when my response is tardy. I appear to have placed 55,389 items into the deleted folder during the past twelve months which, allowing 5 seconds for each action, adds up to around three days of my life and may explain delays in replying, the repetitive strain injury developing in my deleting finger and the spasmodic yearning for the era when the post arrived at a set time each morning and, occasionally, in the afternoon too; those were the days....