We still need to be with each other.
In March of 2021, I speculated about the future of teaching conferences in a post-Covid world. As we get closer to that time, it seems wise to revisit the topic. Also, as you read this, I am in the third day of an in-person conference that I am hosting at my school.
In my newsletter last March, I took the position that attending a remote conference from the comfort and convenience of your own home was a net good. But I admitted that it felt like something was missing.
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Now, 2.5 years into the pandemic, we have learned that we still need to be with each other. There is just something human, and invaluable, about being together. Seeing each other in-person, in the flesh, and observing body language as well as speech inflections, neither of which we might have picked up over Zoom. Sharing a meal together, as humans have for millennia, is hard to replicated online. And it remains difficult to introduce yourself to another person in a chat box. It just does.
As I noted more than a year ago, we convey so much more information in-person than we do on a screen. Screens only show your head and shoulders (usually), and not fully revealing of your full humanity even at that. After all, Zoom has a feature to “Touch up my Appearance.” Not that I have ever used it or anything. Uhh. OK, I use it all the time. (But you don’t have to confess that you do too.)
Conferences are not fully back yet. At the same conference on the same themes in September of 2019 - just five months before everything shut down - we had 165 attendees, and I had to turn people away at the last because we had reached capacity for the rooms we were using. This time, there does seem to be some “depression” of our numbers. I was expecting around 75-80 but we will actually have 110 at this conference. Not quite the numbers we had the last time, but more than a respectable showing.
I have had a few people express interest in attending the conference virtually, and I have turned them down. As I have noted here before, I believe our future is hybrid, and that means for this conference that four of the presentations will be a mixed in-person and online speaker panels. Each of those four people joining us remotely to present had a last-minute medical or family issue that prevented them from attending.
And of course, all of the presentations will be taped and posted to the conference website, as it was previously. So it is hybrid in that way as well.
But we really wanted a conference like the last one, which brought thought leaders in this area together for in-person interactions, discussions, and sharing. So we are not allowing non-attendees to attend the conference remotely. That seems harsh, but of course if you think about the complexities about putting on a conference for 110 people, with food and drinks, program, attendee list, and and…. Well, putting on two conferences at the same time, well, that would cause me to retire. And posting all of the presentations a week or so after they have occurred effectively offers the same thing as attending it “remotely” (with the possible exception of being able to ask a question, live).
We’ll see how it goes. We will have those blueberry muffins with the crunchy bits on top, and people will meet over the coffee urn, and I will report back. In the meantime, please share what you are doing about attending conferences in-person, and what you find to be different between those conferences and those that take place fully remotely.
Letters of Recommendation
As I have mentioned, I am studying classical piano as an adult student. Three years into this, I can sort of play a Chopin Etude (Op. 28, No. 4), and remain engaged and enjoying the work. Recently, I have been thinking of mixing in popular music. (Secretly, I suppose I have always wanted to be that person at the party who can play all the well known tunes.) So why not start with Billy Joel’s Piano Man? A classic of the canon. Here is a rousing rendition of the song that he did at Shea Stadium in 2008.
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from the 20th Century Russian short story writer Isaac Babel:
No iron spike can pierce the human heart as icily as a period in the right place.