Technology: does it rule our lives or make them easier? It certainly catches us out, as Tory Chief Whip Michael Gove found when his phone went off in Cabinet on Tuesday, earning him a prime-ministerial rebuke.
For Christmas I received an ironic present, a selfie-stick. Readers will recall I’m pledged never to take a selfie. So how do I reconcile that powerful principle with showing necessary gratitude by using the gift?
I’ve set strict rules for its use. I still won’t take a picture of myself alone with any particular landmark or objet d’art. But I’ve decided it’s allowable to snap groups of friends, for example at a celebratory dinner: thus I tried it out at New Year, just four of us in a Madrid taberna.
It proved less easy than it sounds. First, you have to extend the telescopic arm and hold it out so as to gain the necessary distance for the picture: that’s the point of the stick. Next, a tiny remote control instructs the phone to take the snap.
Family and friends have been screaming with laughter at the resulting picture. My arm and a significant length of stick are clearly visible: and I’m peering over the reading glasses required to work the remote. As the record of an event it’s passable: as photographic art it leaves much to be desired.
Most ordinary people both love and hate technology. I’m a reasonably even-tempered guy, but I’m driven to incoherent fury by the constant refusal of my printer at home to communicate wirelessly with my laptop, which is right there beside it! It’s even flashing to say that it’s connected: but the laptop refuses to recognise it.
The media are full of technology these days. Television shows us driverless cars parking themselves better than I can do it. Householders installing new central-heating systems are given an IPad to control it. I’m too lazy and mean to buy a cheap computerised system to allow me to turn the heating on by phone when I’m miles from home: but I’m told I could.
My family used to laugh at my digital weather-station in the kitchen: its outside sensor tells me how cold, windy or wet my morning run will be. Now my younger daughter has to walk Bruno, her 11-month-old Labrador, before work every day, she decided she wanted just such a machine for Christmas. Thus Dad’s earlier eccentricity has become a must-have.
Moving on to digital media, I confess I’m enjoying being on Twitter. I can bore the world with my views even beyond the realm of this column: more to the point, the news and (more important) amusing takes on the day’s stories arrive thick and fast in user-friendly 140-character bites.
I don’t do Facebook. In my line of work there are potential problems with some social media: but the real reason is that the family say I’d embarrass them. In the light of my New Year photos, the world certainly doesn’t need viral coverage of me eating large meals.
As it happens, the visionary founder of Facebook, billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, made news last week, albeit in an unexpected way. He proclaimed he’d discovered a great new medium for disseminating ideas: it’s called a book. He’s immensely enthused by this new discovery and (devoid of irony) thinks it could be the future.
Apparently he read a pretty obscure volume and enthused about it on Facebook: so influential is the Zuckerberg opinion, that justly-neglected little book is now a best-seller.
This encourages me to hope. On my study shelf I keep 40 remaindered copies of an education book I wrote in 1997. The family frequently comment wryly, “You haven’t shifted any more copies then?”
Perhaps this is my chance. If I could just get a copy to Zuckerberg, persuade him to read and endorse it, I too could become a global sensation.
Be fair. Everyone needs a dream!
Dr Bernard Trafford is Headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views here are personal.