I had a conference call lined up last week with a consultant who has been asked to help me create a group of “practitioners” in my organization. It’s called a “Community of Practice” and I’d be glad to share with you the academic theories behind it, but basically it’s a group of people who do the same work at the same hierarchical level who get together to discuss the challenges they face and share ideas. It’s a good way to develop collegiality and inspire new ideas about one’s work, and I’m pleased to be in charge of this effort.
It’s finally happened. I have officially become obsolete.
I have never Skyped. I know that everyone does it, and I know that it’s a great way to connect with people, whether they are your colleagues who live and work half a world away (and I have many), or friends and family who live and work half a world away (ditto) or your children’s grandparents who live in another state.
When our oldest son was 14, he traveled, by himself, to visit family who lived in Israel. He spent a large stretch of time there that summer, and we tried to set ourselves up with a computer camera so that we could Skype. It just never worked out time-wise, and I never thought about it again. Email and Facebook worked just fine for keeping in touch with him, and I was relieved, because I really didn’t understand what this Skype thing was all about.
But I had the unsettling feeling that I would not escape so easily, and I was right. Today, four years later, from what I understand, one can use Skype to simply make cheap international calls, as well as to see the caller on the other side, face-to-face. I have Skype downloaded on my computer, as well as my iPhone, but I really have no idea how to use it, and the little icons terrify me.
A couple of weeks ago, a young colleague who is in New York scheduled a conference call with me and another colleague, and asked if we would sign in on GoToMeeting for this call. We signed onto the call, and with a few key strokes, voila! I could see her, and she could see me, and we could all see each other.
I was so unnerved by the whole thing I could barely participate properly on the call. Not only do I look hideous on a computer screen, but I couldn’t sit and doodle and fiddle and look at email and all the other little tics I have when I’m sitting on a remote call in an anonymous manner. Now perhaps that’s for the good, because it kept my attention supposedly focused on the conversation at hand (except for the fact that I was so distracted by the images) but I found it really difficult to manage.
And Google Plus? Honestly, I don’t even know what that is.
The consultant with whom I spoke last week (on the phone, like a normal person, thank you very much) told me that the wonderful thing about these systems is that they not only allow you to see the person with whom you’re interacting, they allow you to share documents and work together while you’re on the call. I’ve done that a few times now with webinars, and admittedly it’s a cool feature, but really - I’m not going to write an opus in the presence of others. I’d much rather review the documents prior to the call and then go back in to detail my notes afterwards. Very 20th century of me, I know.
So now what? I told the consultant that she could teach me about these things (which she very kindly offered to do) after I’ve been asked three times if I wanted to Skype or Google Plus on a call – and this was only time number two. But the clock is ticking.
I know I need to learn how to work in this brave new world. If all goes according to plan, I have a good 20 years left of working ahead of me and I can’t possibly be such a dinosaur that I am only talking to people on the phone without Skyping or Plusing or whatever comes next. I need to keep up, to be current and hip, and to understand the advantages that such technology affords me. I need to continue to be able to market myself as a someone who is, if not ahead of the curve, then at least on for the ride
I remember being horrified that my mother never, ever used an ATM card. But one day, when she was ill and dying eight years ago, and I was cleaning out her wallet, I pulled out an ATM card. I held it up and laughed, knowing that it was a useless card taking up room in her wallet. Chiding me, she sat up in bed and proudly announced that in fact, she had used it once – on a trip in Italy.
Obviously, I have a lot more to keep up with professionally these days than just learning how to use a bank card. The pace of technology is astonishing and painful. My cute iPhone, two years old, already looks like a relic. I am not so much scared of learning how to Skype – I just don’t have the energy or brain power to sit down and teach myself how to conquer yet another technology-related innovation. It’s not my area of interest or expertise, and therefore I have to muster up a lot of inner resources to learn how to do it.
What I really need is my own personal little IT guy to live on my shoulder and whisper instructions about all these technologies to me. Here’s how you log into Skype. Here’s how to use Google Plus. Here’s your GoToMeeting login code. Here are your passwords – I changed them all for you overnight so that the LinkedIn hacking won’t affect your hundred other passwords. Here’s how to connect your television and computer and iPod and all your home amenities to get the best possible connection to every movie and tv show you ever wanted to see.
Yes, a little technology pixie that stays by my side and help me navigate this crazy world – that’s what I really need.
Barring that, I guess I’m going to have to hold my nose and jump in. The water may be cold and forbidding, but I’m game to swim. It’s a whole lot better than sinking. Wish me luck.
photo by ebayink via Flickr