January 18, 2013

In Defense of Alexandra Samuel

alexandraOver at HBR, resident blogger Alexandra Samuel — she with the fab wardrobe — kicked up a “shitstorm” (as she calls it) on January 16, 2013 with a post entitled “Dear Colleague, Put the Notebook Down“.

The central plot in this missive was for people of today’s organizations to drop their reliance on pen and paper and to adopt an entirely digital transcribing practice. Whether through a tablet or laptop, Alexandra argues “you’d make better use of your time if you took your notes in digital form, ideally in an access-anywhere digital notebook like Evernote that makes retrieval a snap.”

Who am I to argue with that?

I haven’t worn a watch since 1982 when I was eleven and the last time I took a pen and paper to a meeting was, well … never.

That’s right, I’m 41 years-old and I have never carried a pen and paper to a meeting.

I also wrote a 90,000 word book entirely in Evernote … and blogged about it too.

Shoot me, HBR commentators.

When I started out my career as a high school teacher in 1994, the meetings I attended during those three years were ‘spray and pray’. I sat, I listened, I remembered, and I left. No need to write anything down there.

As I ventured over to higher education in 1998, I recall a story involving my Associate Dean. At the first meeting with her and the team when I joined the organization, it took about 5 minutes for her to stop mid-sentence and ask, “Dan, where’s your notebook?”

Of course, I didn’t have one. What the hell was a notebook?

“I remember everything,” I said with a naive grin on my face.

Either perplexed, ticked off or nervous that she had hired the wrong guy, she replied, “Oh really? We’ll see about that.”

At the next meeting, that’s when my all digital note-taking commenced. I arrived with a rather large IBM laptop (no Lenovo sell-off back in 1998) and began my life in the digital world of transcribing. I’ve been clicking — and now tapping — ever since. So, this year is my 15-year anniversary of such a practice. It’s become a habit, a personal discipline, but I honestly don’t think about it anymore. It’s a bit like breathing.

Which brings me back to Alexandra and her post.

With well over 200 comments and 95% of those vitriolic, negative or condescending, it made me and a few others think twice. Although I may have implemented my practice a decade and a half ago, it seems Alex and I are outliers. I too believe it saves time and it would be so helpful for many to at least try the option for a while and see if it suits their work style. Alex is right, and she had the guts to blog about it — at HBR no less — knowing full well what a “shitstorm” it would cause.

I’m in defense of Alexandra Samuel not because she employs the same practice I’ve used for years, nor am I defending her because she had the courage to challenge the reader. I’m defending her because I don’t want to see her reputation suffer. The comments found on the site give me great concern for her reputation, and I’m here to defend it.

Does she deserve the vitriol? Absolutely not. Even the Maple Leafs deserve to win the Cup one day again.

Could she have delivered her message and sage advice in a more helpful or nurturing manner? In my opinion, yes, she could have … and I’ve said as much to her already. (Disclosure: we’re friends)

Where have we landed, however, as an internet society if we stoop to anonymous comments that attack the author, regardless of message or intent? Are we that partisan? Are we that divided? Are we that forgetful of citizenship? What has happened to us when we use terms like ‘ignorant snit’, ‘hack’, ‘obnoxious’, ‘egocentric’, ‘offensive’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘one of the worst pieces of advise (sic) I’ve read on HBR’ and ‘you seem to be an expert in arrogance’.

Alexandra cares. Alexandra shares. Alexandra lives her life in the open so others might learn from her advice, experience as well as from her mistakes. Et tu brute?

Have we become a society where the difference of opinion — even at a reputable place of collaboration like HBR — is attacked by what I might define as verbal violence?

She had the gumption to weigh in on the comments too … well over twenty times.

Alexandra Samuel is a digital pioneer; a champion of change in this new found social world order. She might learn about tone and intent from this experience; however, we all can and will always be able to learn from her. She is open, honest and collaborative. She cares. She shares.

I am in defense of Alexandra Samuel.

You should be too.

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