I had a nasty experience on Monday. My iPhone seized up. Its screen froze. I couldn’t even turn it off. That’s not exciting in itself: such things happen all the time.
Computers drive us mad when the internet goes down or the programme locks. We curse the machine, kick it, and possibly turn it off and on again, the universal remedy.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when this happened: but I was, and I was shocked by my reaction. I went into something of a panic. I realised at that moment that vast swathes of my life are nowadays tied up in that little piece of intricate machinery.
All my emails are there, both work and personal. It’s only a couple of weeks since I joined Twitter, so without the phone I couldn’t keep up with the tweets coming in, let alone contribute 140-character gems to the sum of human wisdom.
I couldn’t check the weather, or the state of the Stock Exchange to track the worth of the Trafford family’s one pathetic ISA. I couldn’t check texts, Whatsapps, Skype or Facetime from the family.
Okay, I admit it: I was also unable to keep up with the games of Words (a form of online Scrabble) that I’m engaged in.
Oh, and I couldn’t call anyone, either!
It made me think. People of my age tend to scorn the way young people appear welded to their mobile phones. They can’t be without them for a minute.
We oldies assume they’re wasting their time on social networks, worthless but all-absorbing. They store all their music on them. They play video games whose names I can’t remember, and they probably watch videos – as well as enjoying instant access to YouTube where they can download inane clips of people’s pets doing peculiar things at any moment, day or night.
Of course I mock them: I’m an old git and I know better! Now I have to confess further. I do have some music on my phone, and even a full-length video-recording of a musical I wrote and staged in 2012.
In truth, I don’t watch or listen to the latter items much: but they’re still there. All my fascinations and obsessions are contained within my iPhone. It really is a part of me, and I simply hadn’t recognised the fact, nor how dependent I am on the machine, until its use was denied me for a few hours.
It was only a very few hours. In the early evening I toiled through the rain to Eldon Square and the Apple Store, conveniently open until 8pm. The rain was an additional annoyance: I couldn’t check the weather on the phone.
A helpful young assistant, having first assured me they couldn’t fit me in for a technical support appointment till Wednesday, took pity on me and showed me how to override the screen, turn it off and reset it. Any idiot can do it. Even this idiot can do it - now.
The perennial IT solution worked. Turn it off, turn it on again: problem solved.
So now I’m back on the Worldwide Web, tweeting like fury, checking and sending emails, texting and messaging, checking the weather and FTSE 100, even occasionally phoning people.
Dependent, did I hear you say? I want to deny it, naturally. I’m made of much sterner stuff.
But the episode gave me pause for thought. Smartphones are extraordinary pieces of technology. They have genuinely changed our lives: so much so
that we can never get away from them.
Through that technology work and social life alike can pursue us to the pub, to the restaurant, the theatre, the concert hall, the beach – wherever. And they do. An employer’s and workaholic’s dream, smartphones now really do own our lives. We can’t live without them.
Hmm. Maybe in future I won’t be quite so rude about kids and their phones after all.
:: Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views expressed here are personal. @ bernardtrafford