During the last 15 years I must have attend close to 200 conferences (more than 10 conferences per year). The variety of them is remarkable: from international governmental organization’s massive gatherings of thousands of delegates, like UN’s WSIS to small, free, open space conference’s, like the Recent Changes Camp.
Almost exactly three years a go I wrote on this blog about the raise of New Kind of Conferences (July 11, 2006) and recently Teemu Arina, one of the original Flosse Posse people (actually he found this site), have a new project focusing on use of social technologies to run better events. I really hope Bantora will be successful. It is needed.
I like conferences and I like traveling, although I try to minimize it nowadays (they say they need me at home and office, too. That is nice). For me conferences are – first of all – places for Bohmian Dialogue in a wider philosophical meaning, not as a dogmatic technique. David Bohm writes:
“‘Dialogue’ comes from the Greek word dialogos. Logos means ‘the word’, or in our case we would think of the ‘meaning of the word’. And dia means ‘through’ – it doesn’t mean ‘two’. A dialogue can be among any number of people, not just two. Even one person can have a sense of dialogue within himself, if the spirit of dialogue is present. The picture or image that this derivation suggests is stream of meaning following through us and between us. This will make possible a flow of meaning in the whole group, out of which may emerge some new understanding. It’s something new, which may not have been the starting point at all. It’s something creative. And this shared meaning is the ‘glue’ or ‘cement’ that holds people and societies together.”(Bohm 1996)
I do not go conferences to “access knowledge”, to network or to make new contacts. All this happens in there, too, but that is a side effect of the dialogue. I go conferences to dip into the “stream of meaning”, to “emerge some new understanding”, to be part of “something creative”.
6:38 AM May 28th (the time stamp must be some “Twitter”time-zone) I found myself sitting in a huge lecture room that was 10 meters from another lecture room where people were giving talks about research methods. I was supposed to follow the talks from a video projection broadcasted from one full lecture room to another. The situation was absurd. I had travel 4 hours to come and sit in a lecture room watching video from room next to.
The very same day my colleagues were organizing another conference back in Helsinki with the title Emerging Media Practices and Environments. This conference took place in a TV-studio and a video from three cameras with live directing was streamed online. When I noticed this on my laptop, I just couldn’t help taking my earphones and start to follow the other conference, taking place 400 kilometers from the lecture room I was sitting in.
To make the distance participation even more rich my clever colleagues were also having live reporting on Qaiku – a service I have described to be the IRC for middle age people (some people see it as Twitter-copy, though it is much more copying from Jaiku, that actually has very little common with Twitter). If you are interested in to see the reporting and discussion, here is an example. So, there I was watching high quality MP4 video stream and chatting with my colleagues about the presentations and asking presenters questions via Qaiku. It was a great experience with the “spirit of dialogue” in place.
So, is it time to say goodbye for conferences taking place in the real world? Couldn’t we just stream video presentations online and have same side-chat? Or even better, why don’t we all record presentations beforehand, post them on our own blogs and then have a chat session. Actually people are already doing this – watching online lectures together. I really like it.
So, why do we still organize conferences? – you may ask.
I ask: Did you read the beginning of this post?
In the beginning of this post I tried to explain, that the important thing is not the form of the conference – online, offline, in real world, in Second Life – but the spirit of the conference. The spirit of dialogue can be present or not.
Still, naturally certain forms support more dialogue than other. Psychologies and designers talk about affordances and patterns. These we should recognize and follow. Affordances and patterns for dialogue.
I am right now in Monterey, California attending the New Media Consortium’s conference starting tomorrow. It looks very promising. The organizers have made many great design decisions to enhance dialogue. In addition to the traditional tags, blogs and tweets the conference program on a paper is a notebook with ToDo-lists reminding people to do the online reporting and commenting of the sessions. Brilliant idea!