Head Lines with Jonny Mitchell: Escape from electronic age was tonic

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 16th June 2014, 3:24 pm
HEAD LINES Jonny Mitchell.

Now he writes exclusively for the Reporter Series.

Every week he will give us his take on life in and outside school from his hometown in Dewsbury.

Over the half-term break, I took the unusual step of going on holiday with my family.

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Now, I’m not particularly one for holidays, certainly during a one-week holiday where you pretty much leave work, set off and get back just in time to start work again. But, somehow, I really enjoyed this one.

Aside from the fact that the weather was cracking (and it wasn’t in Yorkshire, I hear) and we did lots of stuff, I was completely out of the reach of any modern form of communication.

No mobile phone reception, no Internet, no social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) and no convenience store anywhere in a six mile radius.

In addition, we were located up a single track road high in the hills of Snowdonia in a converted barn with no mains water connection – in dry periods, we were forewarned, we would struggle to shower. My wife almost had a fit when I told her – there are four women in my family, after all!

But it was probably one of the best and most relaxing breaks I have ever had. And then I thought about it for a minute. Apart from the water and the isolation, it was just like everybody’s holidays used to be, every time. What on earth did we do before mobile phones and the internet? What did we do before Sky+, for that matter?

I wonder whether the absence of the threat of someone emailing, calling or texting at any second somehow contributed to people being happier and less stressed, somehow more relaxed.

Of course, I work with a generation which has pretty much known nothing else – able to quickly Google to find out which film the actor they are watching on TV was in a couple of years ago, who is married to whom, how old George Clooney is, what the highest mountain in Britain is, and all that sort of thing. I remember when I was a kid, we had the Macmillan Encyclopaedia – if I had an argument with my dad about a fact, one of us would scurry across to it and find out the answer, in the hope we could prove the other one wrong. If we were right, we would parade around the room taunting the other one; if we were wrong, we would silently replace the book and scuttle off in stealth. If it wasn’t in the book anyway, it clearly wasn’t important. We would sometime spend hours arguing, just so we could have a look in the book. Sad to think we wouldn’t have the luxury anymore. A quick trip to Wikipedia and, voila, problem solved. No fun at all.

The same with mobile phones. I remember the first ones, with their gargantuan battery packs which had to be carried in extra-large suitcases and cost a month’s salary. But not now – losing a phone is tantamount to having an arm amputated these days, and the wild panic which ensues is unbearable.

Unfortunately, the trend is spreading wider than the younger “beep alert” generations – we have all manner of people spending inordinate amounts of time texting,mailing, Skype-ing and face timing, all the time. The art of human to human communication is almost dead. The world is fast becoming populated by social cripples.

And for 51 weeks of the year, that’s me. So it was such a refreshing change to spend just one week this year living like a child of the 80s. I challenge you to try it. I bet you wouldn’t last 10 minutes!