Wednesday 30 September 2015

Mistaken Identity

I am a self-confessed hypocritical Luddite. My favourite soap box rant is generally in the field of technology and yet I use my new version of windows 10 (it’s ok, not sure I quite understand all the excitement about it) to carry out my work and much of my life. I blame my phone for stealing any potential spare moment and yet I have arthritis in my thumb from an over-use of texting.

And then there’s Facebook. It seems to me that the concept is brilliant, less so the actualisation, perhaps. It allows people to stay in touch without needing to turn up or phone. Speaking to each other has its merits, of course, but unless you’re going to find a platform and give a speech, you are limited to how many willing participants you can communicate with at any given moment. Use Facebook and not only can you tell all your friends about your holiday, but all their friends as well, if you so choose.

The great thing about posting photos online is that you don’t see people yawn.  I still cringe at the memory of my poor sister travelling over from America to stay with us. After settling her down on the sofa with a cup of Yorkshire Tea and a block of Dairy Milk, the fire crackling and the snow falling softly outside (ok, it was raining, it's a minor detail), we decided that now would be the perfect opportunity to show her the photographic evidence of our summer holiday, using our ‘new bit of kit’ (it was a few years ago): the television through which you could magnify your photos to the size of a small painting. Wonderful if you’re under ten, automatic soft focus would be kinder for anyone over 35. Said sister was stoic for the first 10% of the photos but after that the head began to nod and the eyes roll and as she really needed to stay awake until at least 8pm, all parties were unanimous in the decision to save the photos for 4 o’clock the next morning instead, when she had her jet lag induced insomnia.

So, I click on Facebook at the weekend, wander around, see who’s also frittering away their Saturday, and I see that ‘Tom’ - we’ll call him, ‘Tom’- is ‘at an event near you.’ That’s nice, I think, but what if Tom doesn’t want me to know that he’s at an event near me? Or, put it another way, if Tom wanted me to know he was at an event near me, I’m sure Tom could have told me. I was amused at the potential for misunderstanding that this technology could cause. What? You were two miles up the road and you never popped your head through the door even for a measly cup of Yorkshire Tea? 

I mentioned my amusement to Tom and he said that it was funny because actually, he wasn’t at an event near me at said time. Definitely not. In fact, if I looked on Facebook I would see photographic evidence of him in an entirely different place.

Oh! If ever there was a story to be written.    

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Attached to the Phone

It’s term time again which can only mean one thing: back to ironing on Monday and Friday mornings. I like a deadline so the deal is that I have to get it all done before 9am when I start work. It commences around 7 with brief interludes to push my children through the door and into the arms of the school bus, to load forgotten cereal bowls into the dishwasher, to put the washing on - lest I should have no clothes to iron in a few days’ time.

And to have a flit around Twitter.

I like Twitter because people can be very funny and in 140 characters they can be even funnier. It’s also where I hear about blogs and writing competitions – so I can even pretend it’s work – and where fellow tweeps share writing successes and woes which is the closest I get for hours, sometimes, to having a chat with colleagues at break. I also like to have a paddle around Facebook but we’ll leave that one there before you raise an eye at the suggestion that this may be something akin to work.

We got back from our summer holiday on the eve before school began for the new term. I love being on holiday but I also love coming home, even though it’s with a tinge of panic about getting back-to-it, that I’ve forgotten how I work and what I need to do. It’s a real life recurring dream for me. As is customary, I’d compiled my to-do list in the car as we left the airport. Who am I kidding? I’d been adding to my to-do list all holiday and this time I took out my pen to add some things that had needed doing which I’d already done and could thus be ticked off. (Some of you won’t understand this and I salute you.) The list had done the trick: no need to panic. The house was clean, only the aftermath of a seven week period of ironing on a need-only basis to contend with, the freezer was packed with food and the fresh stuff was arriving by those kind home-delivery people with their lively suggestion of substitutes just to keep life interesting.

Let’s just say, the stench which hit us as we opened the front door was not a dead animal (or family of, I’d decided, with one still limping to a better place, via the bottom of my bed), nor was it the entire contents of the ‘cycling drawer’, although we do appreciate that I have now washed every pair of gloves, neoprene socks and avoid-washing- unless-smelling-like-dead-animals shower-proof- jackets. No, after an hour of false starts, my husband was the unfortunate soul who discovered the source of the foul smell. We’d left the freezer door ajar all holiday; our rammed full freezer, boasting fish fillets after the lovely man from South Shields had paid his annual visit and persuaded me that forty packs of assorted flavours were much better value than twenty. There were a couple of blocks of stilton in there, too. 

I would like to say a public thank you here to my husband for launching into the first and by far the worst of the three all-over freezer cleans, including all the pipe work and the floor below where putrid fish juice had seeped.

And the home shopping delivery didn’t turn up.

Thankfully, if a little ironically, we’d bought fish and chips on the way home so nobody went hungry for this tale. And our milkman had delivered so we could have a cup of tea.  Lots of cups of tea. You see, there are perks to a by-gone age.

On holiday we had no Wi-Fi. Actually, we had a small allocation of Wi-Fi but my children’s Snapchatting needs, and thus desire for the holiday quota, was greater than mine. It meant that I had three weeks without the internet.

Now, I’m afraid that the freezer debacle with its laborious insurance claim and urgent need to buy fish, or the distinct absence of ironing fairies – I know, I know, I really should have done the uniform before midnight of the night before the new term – or even the time spent having a couple of coffees with people I hadn’t seen for years (ok, weeks) is not to blame for the fact that I am still chasing my tail (or should I say, ‘tale’) a week after our return. I’m afraid, dear readers, the cause is Wi-Fi, or to be precise: social media.

I’ve lamented before about the time sap that is this fairly recent phenomenon of our need to share and share again our lives, but being without social media on holiday was a different revelation this time. I had a wonderful holiday. But I actually missed my online communication.

Even though I didn’t realise it until I got home.

Partly due to my woeful hearing making phone conversation both for me and the poor person on the receiving end a little trying, but mainly due to living in a world where most people of my generation and younger are more likely to message than make a phone call, contact using the internet has become my number one way of keeping in touch. It’s a sad admission that I use any time I might have spent speaking on the phone, on-line, but other people are doing the same. Even if I wanted to go back to sitting on the stairs in the hall à la 70s, attached to a phone line via a curly wire connected to the cheese wedge on the wall, and when I was only on the phone, when I was 'on the phone', I’m not sure many other people would have the time or inclination to indulge me. 

When my Wi-Fi returned and I logged into Facebook and Twitter, read the funny little quips and personal messages, it made me smile. There is something undoubtedly reassuring about sharing online that your house stinks of rotten fish, your food delivery hasn’t turned up and you’re going to be here for the foreseeable because you couldn’t be bothered to do the ironing over the school holidays - and learning that you’re not alone. There is a certain comfort in knowing that even when you were away, you weren’t forgotten. And there’s something quite heartening about realising that a three week world without internet was fun, but only that. It wasn’t superior, just different.

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I spend most of every day on the computer and am the most complaining and exacting of companions: how dare you crash? How dare you not allow me to ‘save’, you’re a computer, that’s what you do! Yes, I should learn how to use the new software but I don’t have time, so make it work anyway, if you wouldn’t mind. I always said I would happily ditch the computer and go back to letter writing and postcards, to queuing in the post office three days before deadlines to make sure my work reached its recipients safely, to sitting in the library with my amassed questions on post-it notes. And I probably would go back to this world, if everyone else would join me.

But the internet is here to stay and thanks to a period of abstinence, our relationship has deepened a little. I’m off to joyfully post this on-line, appreciating the seconds it will take to do it, whilst repeating the mantra that I will not complain about technology, that I will not have unrealistic expectations, that I will happily use social media but ONLY when I’m not working.

I have just removed my mobile phone to the hall.

How about you? Are you a technology lover or a fighter? And how do you manage your time?