Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 56 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Stealing Time

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Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 56 seconds

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I would never, I think, intentionally steal something… But time. Time seems like the only indivisible commodity that we can’t bottle up or save up for later. Because so much of me resides online, it seems and really often feels like I can be in different spaces at the same time, and there’s no time wasted moving between them because it’s a click of a button, not a car ride through Cairo traffic.

Offline time is so precious to me, particularly when I spend it with people I normally know online. Making eye contact, and touching, seem essential. Almost a compulsion. And the thing I value most, and which is most difficult to achieve, is alone time. Private time.

First time I met Rebecca f2f in Manchester, my favorite moment was 5 minutes I spent in her hotel room while she grieved. It seems counter intuitive but it’s true for both of us. All our other moments were with other people (at least my kid, but mostly other people in general).

Today was the third and last day of my department’s 15th Anniversary Celebration, where we had Paul Prinsloo, Nagla Rizk, Tim Sullivan and George Siemens (virtual) as keynotes (see recordings and other stuff here http://bit.ly/TALIXagenda) – and I also had the privilege of having Sherri Spelic keynote my class the week before!

I’m just going to say something real quick here about the serendipity of how all the speakers’ talks worked well together. The one thing all the speakers have in common is that I suggested them all (but I had quite a few other people on the list of suggestions – these were the ones my boss chose or the ones who could make it, etc). Among the memorable things in their talks are overarching questions of what teaching is for, what it means for students to learn, what is valuable for us to be doing together. And one of the things that stands out for me, although perhaps never overtly mentioned in the keynotes, is the importance of the relationship between the teacher and the student. Singular. Not plural. Our relationship with the individual student is separate from our relationship with the class as a whole. And every time I’ve had such a relationship with each of my students, the class as a whole went better. It’s not about knowing the individual as separate from the class, but about knowing the student as a person, not as a transactional relationship. This also came up in a student-faculty co-design session we had during the event (which I’ll definitely write about somewhere soon!)

Now back to stealing time. I was fortunate that Sherri arrived a few days ahead of the event so I could spend some time with her. I suggested a place near my kid’s school so I could pass by her in the morning after dropping my kid off at school. That worked great for our first day together when she guest visited my class. People may think I’m crazy. First day I meet the person f2f, she’s teaching my class. But I’ve known her for years. And much of our relationship is private on Twitter DM. And I knew this would be great and it was. Not only because I knew her, but because I knew her mind and her heart. You know?

Just spending time in the car to and from campus several times was precious. Every little conversation was deep and made me think and feel. Making use of the commute time to be together feels like stolen time. It’s time I would otherwise be on my phone talking to someone virtual, or reading or writing. But I was instead DMing with Sherri.

I spent much of Friday with Sherri and this was precious unstolen time at my home and near it, with my kid. But it was also kinda stolen because usually Fridays are family days and we do in-law things – but thankfully this Friday worked out so we could spend it together. But it was still stolen because this was the few days before our event and I kept having to check email and answer urgent calls.

The next day I was scheduled to spend half the day with Paul and Sherri with my kid. For several reasons, it ended up being only about an hour or so over lunch that I could join them… But it was still something. Being with these two people especially just meant so much. Kinda like a group DM but with my kid interjecting all the time đŸ™‚ And there was a special moment where a kid from the next table decided to come and talk to us (and ended up hanging out with us for like 20 minutes or something).

And then the next day our event began. And I realized how difficult it would be to find time. Between doing my role at the event and anything that popped up… It was difficult to find time to make eye contact and speak to people. Whether the local AUC speakers at our symposium, or the guest speakers or guest participants from AMICAL, some of whom I knew from before… Others I knew via email and wanted to talk to. It takes a lot of intentionality to make eye contact, to take a moment to stop and tell someone something personal and just for them, that isn’t just part of rushing by and trying to find time in between. Stealing time. I managed to steal time to have conversations about human rights in Manus (yes, really), adoption and fertility (yes, really) in between calming down nervous speakers and addressing needs of various guests, and literally stealing time to go to the bathroom or pray.

Today, the last day, was arguably supposed to be my busiest day. But I had realized I had been too busy to spend alone time with Tim (my friend since I was a student and he was a provost) and Paul (my online friend for years), so we stole time. Even while doing my role at the event, I was literally being told “can I steal you for a moment” and getting interrupted by someone else saying the exact same thing. It wasn’t so much that I was in super high demand, as that I was running around so that time had to be stolen.

Those moments where someone is within touching distance and you have to say… Let’s talk online when you get back…

But you know it’s going to be different. Once you’ve met face to face, continuing the conversation online is different than it would have been had you never met f2f. There’s a connection and a memory that changes the relationship and it is another thing. So all is not lost. Those touches and eye contact make all the difference. Even though you’re stealing time.

And I’ll repeat something I’ve said before and I’ll say over and over. When you’ve known someone online deeply and privately, when you know their heart and mind, meeting f2f is so much deeper than meeting someone new. And when you’ve known someone f2f and you don’t see them for a long time… If you stay in touch online it really makes getting back together qualitatively different. You really aren’t needing to catch up from that many years ago. You just continue the conversation.

Today, George Siemens said how the new thing with technology is that social progressives have become technology conservatives. I’m guessing I’m one of those, in the sense of how I critique the tech and how people refer to the tech. But most of us who do that still embrace, to whatever extent our privilege allows us to embrace, the capacity for new technologies to connect us. Someone recently wondered aloud whether we could starve the platforms that feed on our data. I wish I could. But I need my people and I can’t reach them via telepathy yet. Though when they’re next to me, perhaps the eye contact gets us close to that.

Today, Paul asked me “how are you?” and after I said I was good, he asked “no, how are you?” and the answer to that, going back and forth between us, took half an hour of stolen time. Because.

2 Comments

  1. Maha, you have captured so much here. Stealing what we can of our already “borrowed” time becomes a habit, becomes a form, too, of self-expression. When I stay up late in order to write or tweet, I know that I am taking those energy resources I might invest in sleep. but it’s a choice I make. But as you write, “I need my people and I can’t reach them by telepathy yet…” so I too steal the time to deepen the connections, to affirm the relationship, to say both ” I see you” and “boy, I’m glad you’re here.” Thank you for writing about all this. It helps in the afterglow. <3

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