My tech: It can be a curse as well as a blessing

John Monks, general secretary of the TUC, talks to Jennifer Rodger about his Ericsson 788 mobile phone
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The Independent Culture
My mobile phone is a super dooper one. It's the latest. When mobile phones came along it was the first time you have ever heard a group of men argue about who has the smallest. That was a rather crude joke, which I think Jo Brand told first but I heard Neil Kinnock say to a group of businessmen.

It's excellent, really rather good. I could be an agent for selling; it's small, light, works abroad and the battery lasts a long time - which is very convenient. I don't think it's very expensive, as the Vodafone line has standard charges. Mind you, I can't say too clearly how much the charges are. I was presented with this when I visited the Ericsson plant in Burgess Hill.

The one I had before this was much older. It was OK, also an Ericsson, this time presented on an earlier visit to a factory in Scunthorpe. Before that I had one the TUC gave me, a Motorola that was bigger and heavier.

I use it a lot when I am out of the office, especially when waiting for phone calls while on a phone at home, or, more to the point, when somebody else is on at home. I try to use the land line if I can because it's cheaper.

The mobile is very useful on the move. But admittedly it can be a curse as well as a blessing. There are more interruptions I wouldn't have had previously. Of course, that can be really annoying. On the other hand, it is convenient for me to interrupt other people's leisure time when needed.

The possibility of communication is instant when it didn't used to be. I have a pager, mobile phone and a computer. I have got everything, in terms of new technology. But I wouldn't if it wasn't needed for my job.

I can't say I have noticed any real benefits from having a mobile phone, like being able to think better, or claim any magical properties from the upright posture or being able to talk in the open air. I confess that I would never use it as a first choice.

It's sometimes very easy to forget who you are talking to. At the moment we have been working on the White Paper for fairness at work. So it's a particularly busy time, and last weekend the phones and pager were going off simultaneously. There is no question in my mind that I ended up talking to the wrong person on the wrong phone. But then that was after a long day. Not that I said anything that mattered. I was fortunate that there weren't any embarrassing moments.

Before mobile communications, life was a bit slower. You simply couldn't find people so couldn't do things, which was perhaps a bit less pressured. But I wouldn't say being able to be contacted at any time puts you at ease. You find that you are contacted with a lot of things that are important but not emergencies.

I confess to turning if off sometimes. Recently, with this fairness at work White Paper, I have left it almost permanently on. But normally it would be turned off, for instance, when I am with company at the weekend. There is a time and place. I heard someone's mobile ring during a funeral, which was just terrible. It's important to remember to turn it off in inappropriate situations.

There are a few things I should learn. I can use a computer, but not brilliantly. Of course I can do e-mails and so on. But as I am not a good typist and need to practice my typing a bit more, I find it all a bit of a chore and tend not to do it. I am fortunate in that I haven't had to out of necessity because I have a secretary. To learn to type is one of my ambitions, along with developing a decent second serve at tennis. It's a matter of time. Also, one of the things to get is these small laptop things. It would help my staff when I am on the road - for them to get written stuff in a form which could be instantly related to other screens. The TUC is pretty much well in front of the pack with e-mails and the Internet. Yet I am probably one of the worst at it.

Certainly some of my staff would think I am a Luddite. My great great great great uncle was convicted of machine breaking and rick burning in Wiltshire in 1830. That was the time of the Captain Swing riots in southern England and he was sentenced to death, but this was then commuted to transportation. He was sent to Australia and never heard of again. So I have got the Luddite ancestry.

My staff make very good use of all the latest technology, which I do not. I like to think they have more time to learn it, but they probably think I am making excuses. My excuse is that the typing is the impediment to me, as a result things like e-mails tend to be rather short.

There is no substitute for face-to-face communication. It's not just your voice, but words and body language. Any difficult conversation is best conducted face to face.

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