Oh, Not That Kind!

In the last post I told you about approaching the young students who did not speak English. Yes, that was a bit of a setback. But I was determined to find somebody I could talk to about their backpack. It was more difficult than I anticipated to find any participants, let alone willing participants.

I started just walking aimlessly around the Washington University campus. I figured that if I stayed there long enough there would be somebody who was carrying a backpack. I did not care who they were.

Now it seems that every time I saw somebody with a backpack they were on the opposite side of this large green expanse that is at the center of this part of the Washington University campus. A young man could be seen coming out of a building and it appeared that he was wearing a backpack. I started toward him. Fortunately for me he was at least walking in my direction.

When he got close enough, the first thing I noticed was that he was Asian. Great, I thought! Is this going to be another person separated by a language barrier? I handed him my placard explaining what I was doing. It asked him if he would talk to me. He read it, looked at me and said in good old American English, “Sure.”

Okay, now  was getting somewhere.

Or was I? This project started because I suspected that there were people carrying some interesting things in their backpacks. This was not one of them. We stood and talked for a minute or two. His backpack was as simple as one gets. In it he had a computer and charging cord. That was it. No pens, no pencils, no papers, no books. One computer. One charging cord. Let me tell you it is hard to make much of a conversation over that.

I quizzed him a bit. He assured me that he does not carry food or any other miscellaneous items in his backpack, It is for his computer and charging cord. Okay, I get it. We discussed backpacks. He had used one ever since he started school, grade school. He felt that the backpack was a cultural thing with students and that when he graduated he would stop using a backpack and switch to something more traditional like a briefcase.

I thanked him and moved on.

My next encounter took place in the Olin Library. I wandered in looking for anyone with a backpack and found a woman from India. She was a doctor. She was also very pleasant about being approached by a stranger. I think the placard I had made really helps break the ice. It gives a sense of legitimacy to the project and lets a stranger feel a bit more at ease.

Sadly, her backpack was no more interesting than the last one; computer, charging cord, small notepad. Well it was some progress. Our conversation and her experience really added nothing to the overall project. She liked using  a backpack. She did not see any need to use anything else. It served her needs. It was totally utilitarian and that was that. Doctors! I thanked her and moved on.

As I headed back across campus I encountered a tall young man carrying a backpack. I stopped him, handed him my placard and waited. He, too, was clearly of Asian descent. He was strikingly handsome. He was also very willing to talk. His name was Alan

Alan was in town for the graduation of a good friend. He is a Washington University graduate and now lives in Baltimore where he works for the government on various projects using his computer skills.

So, what was in his backpack? Of course there was a computer and charging cord. Is there a pattern developing here? He also had his wardrobe for the trip. He said that he used the backpack as luggage for this trip. He could avoid having to check any luggage for his flight.

Now he did have a pretty good sized backpack. It had not only the computer, charging cord, and clothes. It contained the usual toiletries one would expect for a weekend stay out of town. But nothing else. Once again, no surprises, nothing intriguing.

This was not working out the way I had anticipated. I though for sure somebody would at least have some odd thing tucked away. hat was that first guy I encountered hiding from me? Was there something interesting in his bag or was he just a very private person?

At least I was on my way. I had my first three encounters. I am committed to approaching at least 100 people before I come to any conclusions about backpacks and those who carry them.

I would appreciate any comments you have.

What’s in your backpack?