Thursday, January 10, 2013


This is meant to be a column in which I say how great it is to have a new job and learn new things. In fact, nothing is worse than having a new job and learning new things.

Of course I love my new job at Northeastern. Having transferred 13 times in a 23-year foreign service career, I'm used to the hassle of learning all over again where to park (and where not to) learning the names of my new colleagues, and learning how to operate the coffee machine.

But this time the learning curve has me drowning in technology. On my first day I was given a laptop and a  iphone. The technician looked pityingly at my blackberry. The laptop is toggled to my work station, and wrestling it out of its docking station is something I have yet to master. The building itself runs on key cards which open doors, unlock elevators, and admit you to the parking garage. I now carry two phones, key cards, toggle keys, id cards, and confusion. I'm constantly looking for things I've dropped or lost.   

But that's the easy part. The real challenge is the culture of technology. People actually bring their laptops to meetings. (At the State Department this was seen as security risk, and strictly forbidden. Notes were taken the old fashioned way, and if possible with a flashy Montblanc).  

People include their Skype address in their email signature lines, and absent colleagues are constantly being Skyped into meetings, a process that requires only about 10 seconds. I "met" a colleague in North Carolina three times in one day. We were old friends by 5 pm. In fact, there is a culture of meetings, and I am constantly being invited, electronically, to more. Then they are cancelled or rescheduled. I eagerly accept all invitations, having little else to do in my first week, only to find that I'm the only one in the room. (Cancelled electronically, should have checked the damn iphone).  Then I find I've missed one with my boss! How could this happen? 

I can see the mountain looming ahead for me is the coupling of technology and teaching. All professors must have online certification. I am set to begin this process on Monday. I will learn how to create Wikis on Blackboard, an electronic platform. Then I will meet with a course designer who will suggest bells and whistles to jazz up the syllabus. I have been assigned three courses for the spring term and have never taught any of them. I would far rather spend my time reviewing the literature and crafting a sensible reading list. But instead, I fear I will be engaged in a life or death battle with technology.

A part of me craves this chance to be one of the cool kids. I see myself skyping cheerfully on my laptop, downloading amazingly relevant YouTube videos into my courses, creating my own meetings, inviting lots of people to them, and then cancelling them, all via my iphone. 

But another part of me just wants a nice fountain pen, preferably a Montblanc.  

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