A sad day and a glimmer of hope

The day before yesterday, I was in a great hurry on my way to visit a very ill friend. Writing this a day later, I was successful in my race against time. Now this was a bit personal, but I will stay true to what my blog is about – things I’ve learnt recently – often in the context of the ways technology impacts on our lives. So please bear with me in spite of me opening up so dramatically. Also, there is a nice little story at the end of this post, so please read on.

I received note recently that an old friend from Germany was terminally ill – and I promised I would visit. I was at a conference yesterday – the national destinations of leavers of higher education conference in Huddersfield. I think I would have enjoyed it, had I not received terrible news right at the moment when the first speaker started. Now here’s where technology impacted me right away: I always live tweet from events like this, so I’m the annoying kid in the audience juggling two tablets and a laptop. Yes, I can multi-task. However, that day it was a blessing as well as a curse, as I received an email telling me to come as soon as possible.

Now the idea of this always connected world, where I am only a few hours away from my hometown in Germany, was tested: I started right away to affirm whether it would be possible to organise a flight (the next day was feasible), get the next few days off work (a big big thank you to all my colleagues who will keep the ship on its course – and my dean, who kindly gave me permission), book the flight, organise transport to and from airports, and inform other old friends who didn’t know.

All this was done within a few hours, and without me moving from my seat at the conference. Yes, I was the annoying kid with the two tablets and a laptop buying tickets and sending emails and Facebook messages – and some people may have thought me rude. But it actually helped that I wasn’t alone, and that I could follow what was happening – keeping my mind busy in between messages was both therapeutic as well as informative (it’s funny how your professional identity kicks in, even though you’re in emotional turmoil). I apologised to the people I knew there that I had a crisis to manage, and therefore wasn’t my usual self – and they were fabulous about it.

It’s often said that technology isolates us, and yes, that is a danger. However, in a world without mobile phones and internet, I would have never known about this in time – and though I couldn’t guarantee that I would make it in time, I was able to make an attempt – successfully as it turned out. I am thankful for living in such a connected world in which that is possible, and I know I can’t ask for more.

I promised you a glimmer of hope earlier: here it is. It’s small, but that’s what a glimmer is. As readers of this blog you will know that I am keen on not taking part in the collective demonising of young people as hapless and ‘not ready for employment’. So, on the way back from the conference, I was sitting on a local train with a some other participants. We were surrounded by school kids, A-level, as it turned out. At one point, one of them, a girl, maybe 16, turned to me – seeing that I am a suit, and asked me what I would ask a candidate in an interview – as she had one over the phone that very afternoon for a retail job. Little did she know that she was surrounded by careers professionals, so I gave her, and her assembled friends, an impromptu workshop on phone interviews. I told her that it was good that she showed initiative and approachability, and we talked through her previous retail experience. I advised her to use her mobile phone for some more research on what her potential employer is looking for in applicants, and we worked out a short introduction and motivation story for why she was applying to this specific employer.

It was nice on a number of fronts: it felt good to help someone on a challenging day like this, and she and her friends seemed interested and open to learn. I don’t work in schools, but I have to say that most of the school kids I’ve met in the last few years were all wide awake, had a hopeful outlook and were curious for what lies ahead of them. Again some more, albeit anecdotal, evidence against the image of what is being often labelled a feckless generation. If that shouldn’t make us feel hopeful, then I don’t know what should.

September 20th, 2013 by