The little ‘chat’ screen on the bottom right hand corner of my Facebook page popped up. It was my cousin Steven in New Zealand.
“Great win for Vale,” he wrote, before informing me that he’s been flat-hunting in Wellington for his daughter who is about to take up a job as an air hostess.
A quick exchange of messages and he was off to bed, leaving yours truly, who is stuck in the office, to marvel at the wonders of modern technology which allow me to hook up regularly with a bloke who is 11,500 miles away.
This same technology has allowed me to plan my first trip to the States later this year – with the help of an American friend on the same social networking site who is going halves with me on hotel costs. Result.
Chez Tideswell now has a brilliant, super-fast computer in the living room which all of us (including my five and seven-year-olds) use for both work and play.
The little ’uns are on there most days playing superhero games or navigating their school’s ‘virtual learning environment’ – their mastery of the mouse never ceasing to amaze me.
Meanwhile, we grown-ups log in to do a bit of work from home or use the computer to pay for shopping with plastic, check cinema times or just look stuff up.
At the same time our mobile telephones are never far away – beeping, buzzing or flashing to tell us we’ve had a text message or email.
It’s all about that instant connection, the must-have applications and essential convenience for our ‘busier-than-ever’ lives.
The strange thing is that for all the advancements and the benefits, for all that the world has never been a smaller place, I dare say many of us have never felt more alone.
Notorious Eighties throwback I may be, but I can’t help but feel that because of all this technology we’ve actually lost something very precious.
Take social networking, for example: It’s brilliant for keeping in touch with people you don’t see very often or who live overseas and it’s a wonderful tool for organising reunions, charity dos and the like.
It can also be a great force for good, for bringing together like-minded people and, as I discovered recently, for finding lost pets.
More to the point, however, it’s a whingers’ paradise filled with the minutiae of people’s lives that even they can’t possibly find interesting.
Whereas a few years ago every street had the nosey-neighbour curtain-twitchers who knew everything, these days it’s far easier for anyone with a PC.
Just log on to Facebook for streams of: ‘I can’t believe it’s Monday. Can’t be bothered with work’; ‘I’m sooooooo fed up :-(’; ‘I am so lucky to have such-and-such in my life’; or ‘After all I’ve done for you and you treat me like this’ type nonsense.
Worse still is the: ‘Joanne Bloggs is 18 weeks pregnant today which means her baby is the size of a satsuma’ type updates. I kid you not.
This is all done for attention, of course, with people failing to realise there’s a fine line between sharing something funny or unusual with a virtual community and filling up other people’s ‘news feeds’ with pointless drivel.
Like an addiction, social networking cons many users into thinking that they must post daily – or even every couple of hours – despite the fact they have nothing of any consequence to say.
Rather than getting out meeting real people or having friends and relatives visit them, it seems many social networkers would rather sit at their computers having virtual relationships where caring involves simply clicking the ‘like’ button. Surely that can’t be healthy.
There are at least a couple of generations now who have grown up with this technology and, because of it, many of them are seriously socially-challenged.
Teenagers have always been renowned for being know-it-all ignoramuses but mobile telephones have taken this to a whole new level.
In my youth Walkmans were seen as the big evil because they produced zombies who were unable to acknowledge the existence of others. Nowadays it’s worse because you have children who are either texting, tweeting or updating their Facebook statuses while listening to music and ignoring you at the same time.
If I’m coming across as an old fart then I make no apologies because I don’t think I’m alone in despairing at the way in which technology actually diminishes our lives as much as it enhances them.
I was talking to a teacher the other night. For the record, she’s younger than me and she was bemoaning the fact that her boss hadn’t banned mobile telephones in the secondary school where she works.
Her view was that they make it very hard to enforce discipline or hold the attention of pupils who come up with all manner of excuses as to why they need to be checking them every five minutes (usually something to do with a sick relative, apparently).
As for ‘cyber-bullying’, let’s just say she hadn’t a clue how society should tackle something she reckoned was rife.
Interestingly, my teacher friend also despairs at the way in which the internet is producing students who are unable to think for themselves and for whom the answer to everything is ‘Google’.
She said: “I say to them that the very least they should do when they copy and paste stuff from the internet is to change a few words around”.
In contrast, I remember bus trips up to the reference library at Hanley on a Saturday morning when I was 15 to research my history homework. To this day I still love libraries.
Call me old fashioned, but I still read books each night before bed. Currently I’m on The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Give it a try. It’s great.
However, sadly, there are millions for whom picking up a physical book – with a cover and pages – is an alien concept these days.
There are even more who will never know the simple pleasure of making an arrangement to meet their mates on a Friday night and then not speaking to them for a week – which means you can catch up and actually have something to say.
It was author Aldous Huxley who wrote: “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”
With a high street on its knees – thanks in no small part to the internet – with text speak replacing the English language for many, and social networking replacing real relationships, it is hard to argue with his logic.
Anyway, must dash. Have to update my Facebook status with a moan about me working too hard. Lol.
Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday