Using A Cell Phone Doesn’t Mean You’re Communicating

Hearing someone scream in agony, running down the platform as the train pulled away, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sympathy. I could tell from the way he cried out that he wasn’t hurt, but some other minor disaster had occurred. Luggage had been put on the train while this guy wandered off the train and onto the platform, surely  certain that the 3 seconds he stepped off the train wouldn’t be the time that it took for the train to depart. But it was, and depart the train did.


I was coming home from the San Francisco airport, which connects to the local train affectionately known by its acronym, Bart. Exiting from the airport and down to the entrance to the train’s platform, I could see a train sitting at the platform across the turnstile which I had not yet passed. I jogged to try to catch it in time , knowing that I would need to wait 15 minutes for the next one if I didn’t jump on this one. My slight jog wasn’t fast enough, and the train pulled away with a slight whoosh as I reached the turnstile. I sighed in disappointment, but selfishly considered myself lucky when I experienced secondhand the agony of the man who left his luggage on the train car.

Riders on the Bay Area Rapid Transit, a commuter train in the San Francisco area.

Weary passengers on the commuter train.


It was one of those moments where I felt compelled to break through the awkwardness of initiating conversation with a stranger – I wanted to tell him I could help, that it would be okay, that station staff announced over the PA system that he could come to the teller’s booth at the front and they would try to work with him.


As soon as he stopped his futile chase of the train, however, he immediately called his friend on his cell phone,  barely stopping to breathe, ranting about his frustrating experience, instructing his friend – supposedly who he was soon to meet – that he had missed the train and accidentally abandoned his bag on it.


A tug of obligation and sympathy for this stranger made me want to try to interject, but I wasn’t given the choice. He continued on the phone for the next 15 minutes, pacing around the angrily around the platform, making him unapproachable, though I followed him from a distance, looking for an opportunity to inject myself.

Within a quick quarter of an hour, the next train pulled up to the station, and – with my own commitments and friends to meet. I got on it, with my things, and rode home.


Technology (the cell phone) served to connect with stranger with his friend, while also allowing him to disengage from his immediate situation, rendering him unaware and closed to any local help that could have been offered to him, such as a passerby like himself who wanted to offer advice.


Although we have wireless internet, fancy smartphones, GPS, social media and abundant technology that has delivered alluring yet incomplete promises of solving all of life’s problems, situations like these remind me that figuring out and using technology is half the battle. Knowing how to use a cell phone doesn’t mean that you can communicate – meaning that relationships and the importance of teaching rhetoric, critical thinking and relationship building is as relevant as it always has been.

Running Break

I was tired.


After going 5 days without a work out, eating only toast and a small yogurt within the course of a day, even small problems were bringing me near the brink of desperation. It took some outside perspective to bring my focus back in place, and I started to reflect: why am I feeling this way?


Nike women's marathon map

Map of the Nike Women’s Marathon, held in San Francisco, October 2012.

It’s funny that for someone who might seem to be in touch with her body – I’ve worked with a personal trainer, run a few half marathons, and have maintained a mostly healthy diet (although a ravenous sweet tooth sometimes gets the best of me). Yet, I still forget how much food can affect my mood.


I had gotten upset over a small work hurdle. I was planning a major client event, and we were having trouble finding a place where we could park the food truck. How could we make this work? My mood turned dark and I got into that (not-so-helpful) place where I wanted to complain forever.

“How about you take a break from this situation?” my boyfriend suggested.

Taking a minute to drink some water, and reflect: what is wrong with this situation?

  • I haven’t worked out in 5 days
  • I hadn’t eaten a real lunch
  • I was dehydrated


I took a small break, closed my Outlook inbox, and started to do some of the more relaxed web surfing. In my mind, I knew I had to make this commitment to myself: go to the gym.


Half of an hour later, I was at the gym, running on the treadmill, and I could feel my mood lifting. It was as if all I needed was a burst of endorphins and a break from staring at the softly glowing monitor. I felt that I could glide and my mind starting to wander, while a smile crept over my face as I heard the loud squeaks of my tennis shoes on the machine’s tread.

What do we lose when we embrace our quantified self?

Fitbit image

Fitbit, capturing steps taken, calories burned and distance traveled. Makes exercise addictive with social and syncing capabilities.

Technology is integrated into our everyday life for many of us. For myself in the San Francisco Bay Area, it has become a cornerstone in our lives – an invisible tool that we depend on and take for granted until our batteries have drained out of our smartphone. Going out to eat, I’ve become reliant on Yelp before I eat anywhere. I don’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant without first consulting the Yelp reviews. For me as well as many others, it’s safe, comforting and easy to be able to embrace the best of technology and seek out only the experiences that others have rated as “good” – or avoid the ones that are bad, as the case may be.


But is there a chance that we start to lose something in an age of nearly boundless information? Are we forgetting, in our ultra-modern world, to embrace spontaneity and the unknown when we start to rely on technology every time we want to have a new experience? Do we lose part of ourselves or part of the intuition we used to cultivate before our smartphone was our #1 sidekick and we actually had to try out a new place to eat, or venture out on our own to find the best cafe or Chinese restaurant in town?


Comparing a near reliance on apps for restaurants, I see this as a possible reality as the healthcare apps and tools that are being developing become more advanced and pervasive in our lives.  I  have heard so much optimism over healthcare technology such as FitBit or SleepBot – new technologies and apps available on smartphones or devices that offer services for a fraction of the cost what only a year ago would have been many times more. These tools are truly impressive, and can help those who are suffering from conditions to better monitor their own situation, or those who are healthy to ensure that they stay that way.


Although I am optimistic as a consumer and as an observer of the qualified self movement, I’d like to mention the often overlooked side of this reality, to contradict the idea of the seemingly boundless benefits of technology: sometimes it doesn’t work. It has bugs, it breaks down, it runs out of battery. And sometimes, we need to trust our intuition on how we feel, which is a sensation that cannot always been cleanly measured and charted. We also need to make sure we don’t lose touch with ourselves – that the dashboards and trackers we have don’t obscure our own sense of ourselves.


Optimistic, yet cautious, I believe that we need to make sure while we’re heralding in an age of impressive healthcare technologies, the need to use our own judgment to know ourselves without technology still has merit.


Top 10 Things To Avoid While Traveling For Business

International travel to Singapore, Tokyo, London, Berlin, Lyon, Boston – among other places – has been one of the perks of my job within marketing. I enjoy travel, and try to take advantage of a two way plane ticket paid by my company for domestic and global meetings, adding in a day for leisure and sightseeing when possible.



A shot of Bruges, Belgium on a chilly November night. One of the places I managed to work into my itinerary during a business trip to Europe in 2011.


My former boss liked to joke that I would go anywhere for any trip – a statement that was not entirely true; thanks to the fact that pharma and biotech conferences are usually held in thriving biopharma hubs (and therefore techno-savvy cities), I have been sent to some cool places on business.


At the same time, there is a wrong and a right way to do business travel. You’ll make yourself crazy if you hit too many items on this “to avoid list”. I’ve put it together to give new travelers tactics on how to make business travel less painless.


(10) Jet lag: traveling west (from San Francisco to Philadelphia), I’ve needed to be strategic and account for jet lag. Traveling to Europe, I try to avoid those flights that arrive at 8 am (local time)! I have made this mistake too many times: a flight that leaves San Francisco during the day bound for Paris or Berlin landing at 8 am seems like a good idea, but is not. I always end up hitting a wall around 11 am… and then the day drags on forever.


(9) Too much alcohol: being hungover in all-day meetings or at a conference is not fun.


(8) Lack of a routine: not having any type of routine completely throws me off. I like setting boundaries for myself to know that I’m going to bed at a certain time, allowing me to wake up early and go to the gym even during a busy conference. This lets me continue some part of my normal life instead of each trip disrupting my travel.


(7) Red eye flights: these are such a trap: a red eye flight sounds so efficient. Instead of wasting a day to travel anywhere, why not just sleep through it? If you’re like most people, it’s impossible to sleep through noise, cramped seats and (sometimes) flight-long conversations.


(6) Not enough water: getting dehydrated is a bad idea, and can leads to headaches, sluggishness and overall grumpiness. Remember to hydrate when traveling!


(5) Luggage check in: even if going on a weeklong trip, challenge yourself to do carry-on only. I try not to check luggage unless I’m going away for at least 2 weeks. Too many lost luggage stories and delays at the airport. Challenge yourself to see how little you need.


(4) Lack of sightseeing / time spent outside of the hotel: getting out of the hotel is crucial. Even going on one tour makes me feel like the trip to a particular city was worth my while (when I traveled to Berlin, Germany in November 2012, I had terrible jet lag and didn’t get to see most of what I wanted to see – but I did go on an excellent walking tour of the city).


While in Frankfurt for a layover in November 2011, I stumbled upon the Occupy Frankfurt movement on my way to Goethe’s house. Even though I spent less than 24 hours in Frankfurt, I enjoyed seeing a few museums, dining at restaurants in town and getting a sense of the city.


(3) Lack of alone time: as an introvert, I’ve found I need to have at least one afternoon or a few hours of an evening to myself. The constant buzz of conferences and conversations with others is draining for me; being alone once in a while is nice.


(2) Lack of sleep: staying out too late and getting up early for multiple day conferences or meetings is so draining. If you can’t avoid during the conference, clear your calendar for the week days or weekends prior to the trip – this has allowed me to keep my sanity.


One of the desserts consumed by our group at a conference in Phoenix. Not recommended for every day consumption.


(1) Lack of exercise: business travels allows you (forces you) to eat out at every meal – which can lead to a week of high-calorie, high fat or sugar meals. Exercise can help to burn some excess calories when you can’t control where you are eating. Exercise also helps you to adjust to the local time zone, since it can help to tire you out.


Note that I lean slightly to the introvert perspective, which is why item 3 is very important to me; as an ultra organized live-by-my-calendar planner, item 8 is required. You might have the opposite viewpoint if you’re the gregarious, seat-of-your-pants type of personality.


How do you deal with business travel? Do you enjoy it, or do you find it stressful and tiring?

Feel free to share your comments below.

The first post.

As I sit here in Orlando’s International Airport, I’m putting out my first post on my blog.


This blog will feature ideas and musings on business, leadership, organizational management, women in business and more.


The title of the blog refers to the quote by author, civil rights leader and philosopher Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  I love the sentiment of this quotation, though, of course, I might sprinkle it with a dash of realism when setting sail on your career path.


In any case, finding the best parts of your work – connecting with co-workers, seeking out projects that you care about or ensuring that there is a satisfying reward during your break time are all things to pursue to help you come alive at work.


Feel free to comment below or email me at jen [dot] burstedt [at] gmail [dot] com with questions, thoughts or ideas. Thanks!

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