Volume 80 | Issue 3
May 2012

Executive Director's Column: From walking barefoot uphill both ways

Marsha Herman-Betzen

The ACUI staff is much like a family, and as such likes to rib each other every now and then. One of the things the staff teases me about the most is my tendency to mention some random occurrence that took place at the annual conference back in the day and which has little relevance now. Whenever I reminisce and dare to suggest we might learn from the past, someone inevitably whispers: “That probably happened in 1987.”MHB

The truth of the matter is that the world has changed. While many of the inventions we take for granted existed before 1987, they had not become mainstream. In the last three decades, the way we work has become profoundly altered.

In the not-so-good-old days, I used a yellow pad or a Dictaphone, which my secretary then transcribed and typed. With the invention of personal computers and office software for word processing, we all do our own work. Similarly, I recall making fun of early mobile phone users who I thought were so overly impressed with their own importance that they couldn’t possibly walk to a pay phone in an airport to conduct their business. Now the first thing I do upon landing is turn on my phone to listen to voice mail messages and read the multiple texts and emails. And the days of writing checks or carrying a wallet with cash are gone forever. ATMs and online banking are such an integral part of our everyday existence that soon writing checks will be added to the list of what the next generation can’t do, like tie shoelaces or tell time on an analog clock.

Nothing is a reminder of this unfathomable change more than the general health of this Association. And no one event is more emblematic of this transformation than the annual conference in Boston. The last time ACUI’s conference was in Boston was 1987 (my staff loved the irony of our running joke), and the 2012 conference helped solidify in my mind how much of a difference these 25 years have wrought. Gone is the need to schlepp three-ring binders with every minute detail of the multiday event. Gone are the days of reading a memorial resolution before a tiny gathering at the annual business meeting where no business is conducted. Gone are educational sessions that had not been juried. Gone is the schedule-at-a-glance, sized to fit into a man’s suit coat pocket. Gone are slide projectors and upside-down overheads shown on noisy projectors as complementary “visuals” to session presentations. Gone are the days of a seven-person staff and one Indiana University practicum student to run the conference operations. Gone are audio companies who recorded and sold cassette tapes of educational sessions that nobody bought. Gone are the days of a podium on a riser with one spotlight operator for general sessions. Even small nametags are gone forever. 

In the age of digital technology and mobile communications, we have replaced the ordinary with the innovations of the last several decades. Fiber optics, microprocessors, LCD screens, social networking, online commerce, digital videography, and QR code scanners have helped us make ACUI’s largest program state-of-the-art. This modernization resulted in QR codes for educational session evaluations, Google docs for idea sharing, a Guidebook app for planning personal schedules through mobile devices, free Wi-Fi access for improved connectivity, online payment for conference registration and Education and Research Fund donations, and open access to offer feedback and perspectives through Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and YouTube. 

“Innovation is a surprisingly hard word to define,” said Kevin Werbach, University of Pennsylvania professor, in his blog post about the Knowledge@Wharton’s list of top innovations from the last 30 years. “Everyone thinks they know it, but when you ask them to explain exactly what an innovation is, it gets very hard.”
To achieve the best results and narrow down the most authentic list of winners, Werbach and his fellow judges defined innovation as more than simply a new invention. 

“It’s something new that creates new opportunities for growth and development,” he said in the post, citing cellular technology, which ranks No. 3 on the list. “We’ve gone from zero to close to 3.5 billion people who have a mobile device and are connected to each other.”

The annual conference program has become so operationally complex that it can only be carried out by a multitude of staff and students whose skills passed me by a long time ago. I will be forever grateful to those heavy-lifters who possess astonishing talent, an innovative spirit, and a can-do attitude. A heartfelt thank you goes to our superb volunteer Conference Program Team and the Central Office staff for their imaginative creation of an outstanding educational program. These two groups worked in concert to make the 2012 conference the extraordinary experience we have come to expect. And my role? Get out of their way and let them do
their jobs.