Monday, July 2, 2012

What I Learned While In Anaheim

This post was scheduled to go up last Wednesday. Sorry it didn't.

Yesterday at this time I was anxiously packing what felt like too many clothes and too many books into a suitcase too many cubic inches too small and hoping I wouldn't say the wrong the thing the wrong way so that the whole universe didn't collapse around me like a thick, evil scarf.

I am a good flyer, but I am not a good travel-preparation-er. Hours before a flight or a hotel check-out time, I am racked with irrational fears that I have or am about to forget something, throw the wrong paper out or that I'll never find whatever bus, cab, monorail, ferry or rickshaw to my flight and that in the event I make it to the airport, the plane will have taken off without me. It makes traveling with me not terribly fun, and I am forever grateful to those people who do travel with me who have been nice enough to hold my hand, encourage me to chew some gum and remind me that there are plenty of things to read or watch and that the flight, no matter how long, will be over before I know it (no, they don't mean it in the oh-my-god-Shatner-was-right-there-was-something-on-the-wing way).

But prior to that I was in beautiful Anaheim, home of Disney and palm trees and constant 80-degree weather, attending as the +1 of an awesome rock star librarian to the Annual Librarian Association conference. And while a lot of the specifics of the conference weren't aimed at me, I did learn some things.

I list them here now:

1. "Print" media isn't dead, it's just not being used the way it used to be. I walked through rows of a convention center where people just GAVE away books. In stacks the height of an office chair. And depending on the time of day or day of the week, there were different stacks, requiring multiple trips to carpeted booths and carting back a heap of reading material.

Now compare this to the often-heard statement that "Print is dead", because some sort of e-monster wrecked it (we'll talk about that next), and you realize that the long-trusted, long-valued "book in your hand" idea is as dated as a phonograph, Hammer pants and pet rocks. There's nothing wrong with getting your story printed as a book, it's a great thing, but it's no longer the peak of the mountain. It's just one way to get your material out to readers. Holding on too hard to that idea that it "matters" makes you look antiquated, sluggish and behind the curve. Just like you have multiple means and routes for you to go from your house to your grocery store, there are multiple ways to get your story out to an audience. (When a hardcover book is handed out the way I'd give you a tissue if you asked for one, it loses some of that "books are special" appeal).

2. Technology is a tool, not proof of your failure, your age or inadequacy. I saw three camps of people:
a) People who were using and supportive of technology
b) People who resented/hated/lamented technology because they wouldn't use it /didn't like that it was more popular than what they were used to / couldn't believe technology was making the old way they did things obsolete
c) People who thought they were too cool for technology, the conference and each other...that they were there basically to bitch about everything be so "over" and then drink in lonely boring groups with nothing to talk about. You may know these people as "hipsters".

I fall into camp 1. And somehow always ended up in elevators with camp 2. And read the tweets of camp 3.  I guess this is sort of what audiophiles went through when CDs came out - the source material they loved so much changed, thanks to new technology, and a lot of people hoped/wished/prayed it was a fad (yes I actually heard some people saying that e-books are a fad). And it led me to wonder if there were cave people who thought fire was a fad. Or if there were Greeks who thought democracy was a fad.

We've all falling victims to fads. I have a Sparq drive. I have tried a lot of instant messenger clients. Fads come and go, and while I can appreciate not wanting to get left holding the bag on material you've purchased but can't use, something has to be said for the wave of technology advancing.

Things are getting better, all the time, or so the song tells me. It's not happening maliciously, or to spite you, I mean really, the world isn't adopting digital storage because you've been at the job for forty years...you're just...not that all-powerful.

3. A lot of people who work in a service-industry suck at talking to people. Alright, disclosure time: There are times when I suck at talking to people. Anxiety, moodiness, boredom, they all gang up and wreck my ability to put words into pretty sentences. (And no, I don't want to argue that it's a choice, because that's not the point here). But I can, with enough will, get past it - and quite a few people have heard and seen me do it.One good deep breath and then I'm off and talking to people. It might not be the prettiest package of blah-blah-blah, but it gets the job done.

My point is: If you're working a job that requires you to talk about what you do, for the purpose of having people use your service, you're probably going to want to talk to them about your service. And when you stare blankly at someone (I call it goldfish-eyes), because you've realized that you're supposed to be talking, but you aren't, well, you look unprepared. It's one thing not to expect anyone to listen to you speak, it's another thing entirely when you're job IS speaking.

They could have looked at notecards, or their hands or a co-worker. But just staring blankly makes me walk away. I don't know if that happens for other people, but I'd rather go hang out with people who love to talk, because that makes my own anxiety about talking go away.

So that's what I learned on this trip. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

We'll talk soon.