Ethnographer Mary Ann Sprague is forced to improvise when one slip changes her plan.
I have always taken great care and a certain amount of pride in always being on time and prepared for field sites and interviews. I thank my mentors for instilling this in me early on. I always made sure I had charged video and audio equipment, discussion guides, contact information, notebooks, extra writing implements, and power cords to carry on despite any possible problems. There have been the occasional failed battery, but I always had a spare, or my coworker had one. It’s never been a serious setback until this spring.
I was meeting my coworker at an elementary school for a teacher interview. Teacher free time is at a premium so I made a point of being on time and prepared to maximize the time we have together. On this occasion I arrived at the school parking lot a few minutes early, so I turned off my car and pulled out my iPhone to check messages. I did a mental check that I had everything in my backpack in the passenger seat. Everything was in order, so I relaxed for a couple minutes.
Just before the meeting time, I put my phone in my pocket, got out of the car, and hit the door lock. I walked around to grab my backpack and the door was locked. No problem I thought, I’ll go back to the driver’s side and unlock it. The driver’s door was locked, and the keys were still in the ignition with my equipment, questions and paper still locked in the car!
I called my husband and he agreed to drive home (luckily it wasn’t too far) to get my spare keys and deliver them (but still a good 40 minute wait). I went into the school to meet my coworker. She had relied on my previous level of preparation and had a notebook, but without the questions or any recording equipment.
Not wanting to reschedule, we met with the teacher. Luckily, the teacher had printed the list of questions I had emailed. I was frustrated because I didn’t want to miss any part of this conversation. The teacher was a wealth of information, but the information came out at warp speed and I worried about being able to keep up.
Thinking about what I had with me, I realized I had my iPhone, so I recorded the entire conversation using the voice messages app and took several pictures, as did my coworker, using our phones. I wrote my notes on the back of the question sheet from the teacher and we had a very interesting discussion. My husband met us in the parking lot just as we left our interview.Later, I was able to retrieve the audio through iTunes and convert it to listen on my PC.
Everything worked out in the end, but it was a shock to my confidence. I have since begun looking at other apps to capture audio on my iPhone so I have a better backup plan for the future, and my coworker now carries audio equipment at least so we are always prepared.