Thursday, October 19, 2006

When the pen IS mightier...than just about anything

So, I'm in the third day of a three-day contract to record the proceedings of a pretty high-level symposium. I don't use a laptop to record notes as I'm faster in that setting with a pen, and someone using a laptop nearby can be intrusive for session participants.

I've been writing for two days. Have pages and pages of notes. But my contract states that I need to record the last session on the third day - a de-briefing meeting - verbatim. So I know this time I will have to rely on technology.

I make sure I have the right equipment. I test it the night before and the morning of, in my hotel room. I get to the venue early. Set up. Test it again. Grab a juice and a few carrot sticks from the lunch table as the meeting participants start to flow into the room. Then I relax for a few minutes before things get going.

The facilitator calls the group to order and makes a few introductory remarks. And I hit 'record'.

I watch the sound levels on my laptop screen to make sure it's recording, then return my attention to my notebook (wanting to look busy as much as thinking that I need to make much in the way of meaningful notes).

I'm engaged by the discussion (it's in a field I'm familiar with, on a subject I feel strongly about), and only after about five minutes or so that I check my computer screen again.

The sound level shows a flatline.

I hit 'record' again, hoping I haven't missed much. This time keeping my eye on the screen I see, to my horror, that the program will record for only 120 seconds each time before it quits. And I have to hit 'record again'. For two to three hours?

My only recourse is to return to my notetaking in earnest, and figure out what went wrong later.

I ended up with good notes, including the transcribed ones that the facilitator wrote on the whiteboard as the session progressed. I didn't lose my cool - at least not so it showed.

My credibility may be a bit bruised, but I'll compensate by getting the first draft of this partciular session done within 24 hours, at the the request of my client, despite the fact that it's not due contractually for another ten days.

And I will continue to use technology when I need it.

But I'll always know that my pen and thick notebook can still bale me out of almost any spot, and that it can beat technology at its own game - much of the time.

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