sacagawea.jpgThere I was taking a hot yoga class when our instructor starts talking about the benefits of yoga. It was 6 a.m., and the instructor probably wasn’t totally awake. He said, “the practice of yoga helps your e-ternal organs.” He quickly corrected himself, saying he meant, “internal organs,” but I found myself laughing out loud at his faux pas.

You see, I’ve been working on a story for Business Week’s SmallBiz magazine about virtual worlds, and one of the key parts to the story are avatars, those cartoon depictions people create of themselves when they want to go into one of these virtual worlds.

When the instructor said “e-ternal” I pictured myself as my own avatar doing yoga with my e-ternal organs glowing or something. I laughed so much the other students were looking at me funny, so I felt compelled to tell the instructor after the class what got me going.

When I mentioned an avatar he looked at me like I had six heads. “What’s that?” he asked.

I went on to explain, a bit shocked that this sort-of-hip yoga guru had no idea what an avatar was.

I realized right then that we’re at a technological cross roads, a big one. Things are happening so fast, no one can really keep up with it all.

Avatars, LinkedIn, YouTube. If you’re not up on all this stuff you really need to start educating yourself.

I’m telling you folks, the work world is being transformed over and over again by technology day in and day out.

Even my own world of journalism has been altered beyond recognition in just a decade. Almost all the newspapers in the United States are firing workers as ad revenues for paper newspapers plummet; and almost every publication has a web presence. I surely could never have predicted this when I was working for a newspaper in Tampa, Florida, less than ten years ago when a weird, young editorial assistant sitting next to me was spending all his time writing about his love life on this new thing called a blog. And, I can’t believe I had no iPhone, no laptop. I was a tech dope.

Recently, my intern Katherine became a tech tutor to her mother, who is reentering the Corporate workforce after years of staying home with her kids.

It’s an odd situation to have your child teach you something, so I’m proud of Katherine’s mom for putting aside her ego and taping into her kid’s brain to help her own career.

Here’s Katherine’s take on how it went:

It’s 2pm on a Wednesday, the day before my mother starts her new job, and I, the child, am trying to teach her, the parent, about computers.

It’s been at least eight years since she has stepped foot into the corporate world, so we just want to make sure she is familiar with a few basics before she goes to work.

It’s not that she has never used a computer before (quite the opposite actually, she uses one every day). However, she only uses the computer for two things: to access the internet and to write.

In fact, to her, the computer is “a fancy typewriter.” It’s just “one that doesn’t need whiteout,” she says.

Since she doesn’t really use programs other than Microsoft Word, we’re going over things like Excel and PowerPoint. I guess you could say that I’m broadening her horizons.

Instead of jumping into the programs first, we end up browsing the web and land on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn. I’m fairly certain she knew about these already, but now she has a more intimate knowledge of them.

After the social networking sites, we somehow end up on looking at a Gatorade ad. We also talk about hyperlinks and embedding things.

I feel that this is at least semi-relevant seeing as she is in the marketing and communications arena. Admittedly, the search for my brother on was not so relevant.

We finally get to Excel and PowerPoint, but have to get through them quickly.

First we go into Excel, where we make a table with bogus data and I demonstrate how to put formulas in place.

Surprisingly, we finish the tables, the formulas and the charts without a problem. We even put the charts on different sheets and give each a special name.

Just when I think it’s going well, she says “what about making the cells wider or narrower?” The word “seriously” may have escaped my lips.

I keep forgetting that she did not grow up with computers like I did.

After we go over the basic things I skipped, she seems less intimidated by Excel. I wouldn’t go as far as to say she is comfortable with it yet, but she’s getting there.

PowerPoint goes much quicker and simpler. We basically just discuss how to insert a new slide and format each one differently.

I know we are done when she says that she’ll figure out the rest if necessary.

Even though we didn’t get to touch on Publisher or other things, I think, or at least I hope, the poorly-taught tutoring session helped.

Now, if I can get her to stop calling a laptop a portable, then we’ll really be on the right track.

A portable. Remember calling it that? You know, I have no problem with her mom calling it a portable or an electronic box for that matter. At least she’s trying to learn what she can to keep up with it all.

Everyday we’ll learn new things. My column this week on is about all these social networking sites and how the heck to figure out which one you need to be part of to further your career. I even learned a lot doing the piece. I learned a lot of this stuff is crap, but a lot of it isn’t.

That’s a scary proposition. What if you miss out on the important stuff and get mired in the crap?

But that’s sort of how life works. Every day we have to reassess what’s working for us and what’s not. That’s not a bad thing, right? Let’s look at it as an adventure, and also reach out for help to anyone we think can help — our daughters, our friends, our spouses, and me. Send me email anytime at, and if I can’t answer your question I’ll find someone who can. You may even teach me something.

I’m sure, even in cyberspace, a digital Lewis and Clark expedition would still need a Sacagawea avatar.

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