Life Lessons from the Library: Never Put All Your Hope in Technology

Emily was doing an orientation session today. When she went into the classroom and clicked on the computer, she found it was not connected to the Internet. About the same time, in my office, I sat down to work on some curriculum committee materials and found my computer was also not connected. Apparently, the computers shared a line, and since only those two were affected, it wasn’t  noticed until we both needed them at the same time.

Luckily, both of us had back-up plans. Since the student computers were working, Emily did the orientation, walking students through the databases instead of showing them on the large screen. I called a colleague to let her know that I was having problems and that the approvals were given, just not recorded.

As often as things go wrong, I’m always a little amazed by people’s inability or unwillingness to have a plan B when the technology doesn’t work. I’ve sat idly in meetings while we’ve waited for IT to come to the rescue. Now I’m not against that, but most of the time, I’m thinking, surely there’s something we could be doing while we’re waiting.

For students, technology has become the modern equivalent of  ‘the dog ate my homework’ : My internet was down. Your internet was down. My password wouldn’t work.

Technology has become as pervasive in our lives as air. However, unlike air, we can still function without it. And we need to learn to. If your internet is down, then go to the library. If the library’s webpage is down, then use your public library’s databases. And if you wait until the weekend before something is due to find out your password doesn’t work, then that was a really bad decision.

I don’t want to sound like a crank: I’m usually known as the bleeding heart among my colleagues. But perhaps since I’m old enough to remember a time before this pervasiveness, I also remember that there are other ways to proceed.

As an English instructor, I had two recommendations when I assigned the research paper:

  • Assume things will go wrong and pad your schedule to work around problems.
  • Always have a plan B.
It’s just the professional thing to do. Maybe one day,we’ll live in a society where technology never fails. Until we do, always have a back-up plan.



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