That time there was a technology apocalypse

May 01 2013

Jock Lauterer, my community journalism professor at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, always says, “Technology will fail you.” In a recent phone interview for Reese News Lab, I experienced the wisdom of his words.

I set up the interview as I normally do, using iPadio, an app on my iPhone that records phone conversations. To use the app, you call the iPadio number first and then add another number, the person you want to interview, to the conversation. (To learn more about iPadio, read this Lab Report.)

To avoid confusion, I prearranged an interview time with my source. When I dialed his number, I got the busy signal that continued when I called several more times. I checked my email and saw that he had emailed wondering if the interview was still on. I responded explaining my situation and he said that he could see me calling, but his phone wouldn’t let him pick up.

This awkward phone tag continued for about 20 minutes, even when I gave up on iPadio and called him normally. When I had him call me we were finally able to talk on the phone, a luxury I normally take for granted when I conduct an interview.

I should have known these technical difficulties were bad omens foretelling how the rest of the interview would unfold.

Once we started chatting, I realized I needed a way to record the conversation. I knew I could complete the interview without a recorder, but because I was writing a Q&A article, I needed the quotes to be as accurate as possible.

With some quick thinking, I ran out of the room and commandeered one of my housemate’s phones (while babbling something about an interview). I put my phone on speakerphone and started recording the conversation with the voice memos app on my housemate’s phone. I was able to collect some key quotes for my article even though the phone call cut out once. Determined to finish this disjointed interview, I just called him right back.

After about 25 minutes of recording, my housemate received a call from her boyfriend. I hit ignore, but not before the call paused the recording. When I tapped the “resume” button, the screen froze, remaining completely unresponsive. I instantly got an ominous feeling that the recording had been deleted.

Even though I was silently freaking out, I knew I couldn’t think about the recording held in limbo. I had to finish the interview, so I started scribbling down the conversation. Trying to keep the exasperation out of my voice, I fled the room again and nabbed a phone from another housemate to finish the interview.

For most of the next day, I brooded over my unnecessary technology snafu. I knew I could write the article, but I mourned the loss of some key quotes that perfectly embodied the topic of my article.

In class that evening, my housemate sent me an email containing the entire recording she had retrieved from some hidden corner of her phone. The entire ordeal had been so emotionally draining I teared up with happiness right in class.

So here’s the takeaway: Having previously been unscathed by technology failure, I was cocky. I now know not to rely solely on technology. Although I took notes during the interview, they were not nearly as detailed as I would have needed. The press existed before the first voice recorder, and with more diligent notes I could have completed my interview without the emotional stress.


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