My slot on the Big Brother show

20th November 1998 at 00:00
Like TV, the Internet is for appearing on, not looking at. So get yourself on a website

I'm not complaining. I quite like having the television crews around. It means that there is usually someone surplus to requirements willing to throw a stick for the dog or help the au pair with her irregular past tenses. It might cost a fortune in tea bags, but it's worth it to be on the box. I have Titchmarsh in the garden adding a Griselina littoralis to the water feature he has to finish before my wife gets back from her make-over on Richard and Judy's This Morning programme; Ainsley's in the kitchen working wonders with a fistful of lemon grass and a venison sausage; Carol Smillie is up in the bedroom being original with a dado. I am also appearing in several docusoaps, two Kilroys and Animal Hospital if the gerbil doesn't rally after the ordeal of his 48-hour photo opportunity on The Natural World.

Later in the week, I will show my William IV snuff-box on the Antiques Roadshow, argue the toss with a customs official on Airport, and appear on Songs of Praise, before being the dumb-one-on-the-end in a nail-biting edition of Celebrity Squares.

Television is, as Noel Coward said, "for appearing on, not looking at". If you have any doubts about that, watch the customers in any shop that has its closed-circuit television monitors on view. Once they catch a glimpse of themselves on the screen, people are mesmerised. It's as if they see themselves for the first time. They flick back a straggle of wayward hair, straighten their shoulders, pull in their tums and treat their unseen, unknown audience to a cautious smile.

Headteachers and governors should reflect on this before deciding to install temperamental and expensive CCTV equipment. The system could serve only to attract vandals, petty-criminals and assorted ne'er-do-wells, eager to have their 15 minutes of fame on Crimewatch or any of the growing number of programmes that rely on surveillance footage and are hosted by Martyn Lewis or any newsreader with an evening off.

What makes television so important is that nothing and nobody seems quite real until they have appeared on screen. An exchange of vows was once enough to consecrate a marriage. Now it requires at least a three-hour tape and a couple of out-takes to send to You've Been Framed. Today's youngsters grow up expecting to have every important moment of their lives recorded on film or videotape.

They've already had to sit through endless repeats of themselves being born and their first tentative sessions on the potty. When they have their first snog, they will be disappointed if mum or dad doesn't lurch from behind the bushes wielding a camcorder. School life is crowded with wonderful photo-opportunities. The average junior school football match usually attracts more film crews than the World Cup Final.

It's not surprising then that ParentNet expects its Kindercam to be the biggest thing to have happened to pre-school education since Teletubbies. It enables parents to keep an eagle eye on their kids while at the nursery. Video cameras are placed at strategic positions throughout the classrooms and play areas. The live images are digitised and broadcast on the Internet. Provided that the doting parents have access to a computer and a modem - whether they are at work, at home or globe trotting - they can type in a password and watch their children every moment of the day.

I suspect that ParentNet hasn't made the big time yet because the company has seriously misjudged the potential market. Very rarely do you hear the parents of a tiny tot saying: "I wonder what the little blighter does all day."

UT it is the recurrent moan of all parents with teenagers. It's the comprehensives, tertiaries and sixth-form colleges that need Kindercam, The system might even help to answer the questions that have puzzled parents since the 1944 Education Act. What did you learn in school today? What did you spend your lunch money on? Were you given any homework? How did you get your shoes in that state? They haven't put the school fund up again, have they? Did Sir like that history project I did for you? What did your form teacher say when he saw you wearing that?

It might sound like the sort of repressive scheme that would send self-respecting teenagers to the barricades, screaming that their civil liberties were being infringed. But, in fact, the younger generation doesn't seem to mind very much about that sort of thing. They don't care that there are CCTV cameras in streets, shops, pubs and clubs. They quite like the idea that Big Brother is watching over their every move - especially when they know that edited highlights might well make a prime-time appearance on one of the main channels.

Teachers will have to learn to love it. The Government, aware that it will never be able to recruit enough qualified staff, looks forward to the day when schools will be managed by a rag-tag-and-bobtail army of classroom assistants, volunteer mums, jobseekers, Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. Real teaching will be consigned to the Internet and video-conferencing.

Some teachers who have enough sense to know that the Internet, too, is for appearing on not looking at. They are already planning to have their best lessons digitised for the website hosted by Michael Barber's Standards and Effectiveness Unit. Let's hope that among their number is at least one English teacher prepared to broadcast a thought or two about George Orwell's 1984.

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