For me, one of this year’s distinctive themes has been the fascinating tension between opportunities made available to us by relentless technological advances and how we respond in practice when some of these innovations meet our less sophisticated preferences or basic instincts.

Last Sunday’s edition of The Observer newspaper provided a good example of where a clear and arguably unexpected divergence has appeared between the latest technology and our preferred experience of reading. In Robert McCrum’s interview with James Daunt, CEO of Waterstones, entitled ‘Whisper it quietly, the book is back’, it emerges (shock, horror) that e-book sales in Britain have peaked at 30% of the market, leaving a stable and substantial share for the surviving, though undoubtedly chastened specialist booksellers.

Waterstones is opening new stores again but Daunt is far from complacent. In truth the business is only now returning to break-even. But it was relatively recently that the game was all but up for hard copy books. The future was to be dominated by e-readers, with their superiority in storage and convenience.

So what happened? Well, we happened. Even accepting that the paper vs digital debate is far from over and that the e-book experience will improve, there is clearly an enduring appeal to the traditional method of consuming the written word. “Do not underestimate,” Daunt advocates, “the pleasures of reading. In the age of social media and proliferating choice, a book is a singular joy.”

The article continues in a similar vein. “The pleasures of reading morph into the aesthetic delights of print and paper. Reading a favourite novel on a screen is like tasting a vintage wine through a straw.” And, as if by divine gift, it transpires that one unintended consequence of the e-book has been to encourage many readers to return to the hardback.

This gap between the theoretical potential of technology and the limitations of homo sapiens can also be seen at a more basic level, touching upon the instincts we employ in establishing and nurturing relationships.

Earlier in 2014, in episode three of her series on Radio Four, Networking Nation, businesswoman Julia Hobsbawn visited evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar at Oxford University.

Some years ago, based on his analysis of primates, Professor Dunbar had concluded that, despite the apparent infinity of online connectedness, there is a limit to the number of people with whom we can have real, that is to say reciprocal, relationships. These are typically relationships with family and friends – “you know where they stand in your world, they know where you stand.” And the answer is 150, now known as ‘Dunbar’s number’.

In more recent work, Dunbar has considered the role of “face-to-face contact in a Facebook age.” His results confirmed the crucial importance of facial cues in defining the quality of an interaction. Face-to-face wins out every time against all forms of digital communication, with the exception of Skype which does offer some sense of ‘being in the room’ and the key benefit of instant dialogue.

In short, our basic need to establish rapport and trust by sending and receiving messages in person remains paramount, regardless of the lure of the latest technology.

Again, this is not to deny the transformational impact of the digital revolution. Our real life and our cyber world can exist in harmony and online relationships can be developed successfully.

We must, however, maintain a sensible, sensitive balance between the pursuit of innovation and observing classic truths, prioritising where possible what is now called ‘in person networking’ (meeting people face-to-face!), not relying excessively upon digital shortcuts.

The festive season is the ideal time to enjoy both the thrill of innovation and the warmth of basic human instincts, in perfect harmony. Happy holidays!