So, this past weekend I went to Las Vegas and looked at a lot of powerpoint slides with hyperlinks in them.
(This is not an entirely fair assessment of my time in Vegas, perhaps. I also sprained some terribly important muscle in my foot, and was nearly assaulted by a man in a Bert From Sesame Street costume.)
Other than the genuine learning about my day job that I did at the conference, my “take-away” from the conference concerned communication, how we engage in it, and how far behind some of us are in technique for it.
I attended a lot of basic skills sessions, being relatively new to certain areas of research, and I didn’t much care for many of them. I’ve done college and grad school and literary criticism and social analysis, so when I attend a learning session I look for concept and innovation. I’m not looking for data, except as it supports the concept.
This is a little difficult to vocalize, so bear with me.
Once upon a time in the 1980s and before, you saw your colleagues in the field (any given field) once or twice a year at conferences. It was a time to come together and network and socialize, but also to share information and resources. Before the internet took off, communicating data at a mass assembly was really the only way to communicate data at all, if you didn’t want to use some kind of terrible phone tree. I’m talking here about hard data: resources, facts, terms. In my case, a lot of demographics and resources for valuating non-cash, non-stock goods.
But we have the internet now, and we have the capability both to build webpages and to mass-communicate in private through email. My discipline even has a mailing list on the old “-L” mass mail system.
So a lot of the presentations I saw this year didn’t really need to happen. And I hate to say it because people worked hard on them and the information in them was important. But it wasn’t information that needed narration. Many of the presentations I went to could have been posted online as a list of links. Many of them should have been — they’d have drawn more attention to the creator as a blog post than they did as a mediocre conference session, and the interaction surrounding the links page would have helped to make the presentation itself a lot more dynamic. (I am currently watching this happen with a colleague who, rather than present a glossary of foreign-language terms we use, put up a web glossary and is getting all kinds of kudos beyond any session attention she would get, because she’s providing a resource and not just presenting knowledge.)
The way we communicate is changing, everyone knows that, and a lot of the methodology has already been incorporated. You can livetweet a keynote speech now and your tweets will show up on a board behind the keynote speaker. You can exchange email addresses with a newly-met colleague at another institution. My colleague with the glossary had business cards made up for her website, which was a brilliant lifehack considering business cards are still the currency of choice at these conferences.
But there are subtle infrastructure issues we haven’t yet addressed — like the fact that information presentation isn’t as important as it used to be. Concept presentation is where it’s at now, since the information can come to us much more quickly and openly online. One of my internet colleagues, Lex, pointed out that after your first two years of a given conference, you’re really just there to network anyway.
(This made me want to create the Shadow Conference for next year, where those of us who don’t need certain sessions blow them off and meet in secret to do intense, Illuminati-style networking. I may yet arrange it.)
In thinking about all this, I was trying to relate it back — as I do basically everything — to my writing, but I think given that I’m running low on ideas for blog posts, I’ll handle the relationship between digital communication, brickspace communication, and literary communication in a digital world for next week.