“MUM? Phone me when you get this message, it’s an emergency!”
I glance up from my revision. It’s one o’clock on the last Friday before exam period kicks off, and the young woman pacing back and forth looks stressed. She has an assignment coversheet in one hand and is compulsively clicking a computer mouse with the other. Every few minutes she calls up people’s voicemails and alternately commands or begs them to call her back. I’m no Sherlock, but it doesn’t take much intuition to sew all the scraps of information together and figure out that she’s having problems submitting her coursework.
Eventually, she reaches her mother and I get to hear the whole story. This is technically not eavesdropping, since her diatribe is delivered at maximum volume and I’m the only other person in the room. It transpires that although she thought she had saved her coursework on a memory stick, said memory stick is failing to give up the goods; her deadline is at four o’clock and the commute home to retrieve her laptop would take too long. All she needs is for somebody at home to email her the file. Without it, she’s screwed. There’s an obvious question hovering. I don’t want to be the dick who asks it but eventually, having witnessed her exhaust all other possible solutions, I can’t help myself: “Any chance you sent a copy to your own email address?”
This might sound like a desperate last resort, but only to somebody who has never experienced the death of their PC or mislaid a USB flash drive. The twenty-first century trauma of irretrievable data loss teaches its victims some harsh lessons, the key one being to back-up anything that you couldn’t handle losing. In addition to this, we students spend induction week being bombarded with threats and handbooks and guidelines, all of which clarify that failure to safeguard your work is not a valid reason to request an extension for coursework. I’ve heard multiple lecturers advising their classes numerous times to email drafts and final versions of assignments to themselves. Yet not everybody takes seriously the chance of being capped at 40% for late coursework submissions.
Until they accidentally delete their essay or forget to pack the laptop charger, or a trusted memory stick refuses to let them open the file they need. It seems pretty serious then, caught in the glaring headlights of a fast-approaching deadline, having invested many caffeine-fuelled hours of your life scouring incomprehensible texts for a single point worthy of citation; scrolling up and down the same document in the hope that your 3,000 words will arrange themselves into something resembling a structured essay; compulsively checking the word count at 3a.m and wishing fervently that you’d picked a different degree…
It’s easy enough to avoid the despair, the regrets and the panicky phone-calls to relatives by getting into the habit of sending an occasional email to yourself whenever you finish a draft or assignment. And, in my anal opinion, it’s definitely worth the few seconds that takes.