The nearly carbon-neutral conference
Future States is different, in some fundamental ways, from physical conferences. How have you found the experience? What is gained, and what is lost, by moving online? Sociability - or the lack of it (!) - is clearly an issue. Is social interaction a basic requirement of conferences, or is it just that we like these social occasions, and have come to expect them as part of our conference-going lives. What are conferences for, who do they benefit, and how might a shift to online conferences shape our expectations? What are the advantages, and limitations, of the NCNC model?
I think that there is a form of flexibility that can lead to asynchronization. As we do not connect ourselves in the same time, it is obvious that sociability is limited. Maybe, it could be corrected with a few synchronous occasions where scholars could be invited to join online in order to facilitate contacts / exchanges / discussions. It could be scheduled for some plenary sessions with Q/A answers.
To answer my own question, I have found the conference wonderfully sociable! But the sociability occurs, mostly, within the structured setting of the conference Q&As, so it has a particular quality all of its own. I've really enjoyed these conversations.
I much enjoyed participating in this conference, and to me the advantages far outnumber possible short-comings of a virtual conference. Like you, Tim, I think there is much sociability in the Q&As. While the asynchronous nature of conversations might lead to those exchanges being somewhat stalled, it also offers the chance for more considered, and perhaps ultimately more satisfying responses. The online format is great for us introverts, who find conference attendances and coffee-break exchanges both enjoyable and very exhausting. Plus, virtual conferences are much more inclusive to participants with young children or other care responsibilities (often women), for whom attending multiple-day conferences in far away places is not an option. I also see greater opportunities to engage with a broader public in this less intimidating space, especially when registration is free or fees are low. Add to this the environmental considerations, I think the NCNC model should be used much, much more.
Hello Tim, I want first to say thank you for all the energy you put into organizing and hosting this event, as well as for your excellent job moderating the discussion. The conference site never felt deserted. I, too, regret that we cannot give you a live round of applause for this. In some aspects -- including the level of preparedness and the technological contingencies – I must confess that this event was a bit daunting to me. Yet, these constraints were largely compensated by the quality of the presentations, and the sense of commitment and consideration one could get from each panel. The freedom to navigate the programme at will, and thus discover new routes and unforeseen connections, was also one of the great rewards of the conference. Feeling part of the FS (not imagined) community is an elating experience!
Hello Tim - as you know I am here as an outsider, attracted by the fact that you are exploring new ways to structure and organise a conference, rather then for the subject as such (I am an independent food scholar, and an event organiser myself). I'd like to echo Anne in complimenting you on the excellent job you've done, very encouraging and inspiring. I agree with Susann that this format is more inclusive for many reasons, and that is a very good thing. At the same time, I miss the serendipity of physical socialising, and the focus and immersion a physical conference provides by being a moment out of everyday life. But perhaps that is a question of time, of getting used to this. Like Christophe, ideally, I'd like to have a few synchronous elements. But altogether: bravo! And I wish I had the time to contribute more to the point, looking at food in the periodicals you've been discussing...
Future States is a superb model for the future state of conferences, I think. In addition to the excellent points already made (and I specially agree with the ones on inclusivity), I'd like to point out the value of having the questions and answers in written form; I'm already using these in my own research. At 'live' conferences, of course, it's impossible to attend everything, or to write everything down, whereas at this event, you don't need to miss anything! I found the asynchronous form great, as I could take time to think about my questions.
I also found it helpful to be able to rewind a speaker if I wanted to hear anything again. If anyone had been boring it would have been useful to be able to fast forward them (something I have always wished I could do at live events) but the real beauty of this was that no-one was boring! I don't think any of us wanted some dull paper to be online forever, and it was clear that everyone had put a lot of work into their presentations. It is true that it is quite hard work preparing an online talk, compared with a live one. But then, think of all the time we saved from not having to book tickets, pack, and travel.
I can honestly say that I learned more at this event than at any other conference I've attended lately, and am delighted that the website will be available as as resource for us to return to. I learned not only about periodicals but about new modes of academic research and exchange. I missed having a glass of wine with you all, but otherwise loved it.
Tim and Andrew, you have done an amazing job! This is my first conference of this kind and I have learned a lot and I am amazed with the platform you created. Clearly, asynchronous conferences as asynchronous learning present one problem - that of attention spam. It has an advantage in our busy lives but in my opinion, it lacks the "full immersion" effect we all experience in a normal conference. On this note, I am wondering if we will be able to have access to the presentations at a later date? I am still catching up with some, unfortunately. Thank you again for a fantastic job!
Many good points have been made in the different posts. Even if exchanges are asynchronous, they have a “peculiar quality” as you put it. These precise and well-thought-out answers remind me of written correspondences "of old" but they are public. Maybe a couple of synchronous plenary sessions or/ and roundtables with Q/A answers could facilitate the kind of focus and immersion we find at a physical conference.
But the best thing for me, environmental considerations aside, is the inclusiveness of the conference. I agree with Susann: participants with care duties, young and independent scholars and scholars who can’t travel because of lack of funding can connect with academics they would never have met. The conference has really made me think of a sort of open, public and accessible “Republic of Letters.”
Another great thing has more to do with research itself and could be an answer to Andrew’s questions in another post. I think we should cherish our methodological pluralism, but we should share our national methodological traditions and our projects more widely and the NCNC model is a fantastic tool to do exactly that.
Thank you for your amazing job!
Thank you, everyone, for those kind comments.
Jean-Louis, I love your image of a "Republic of Letters". That's it exactly! We think of technology as a continuous driver of new social and cultural practices - social media, or our (privileged) habit of jetting round the world for conferences and holidays. But it can also allow a rediscovery of older forms of interaction. Isn't that what we are doing here: writing thoughtful letters to each other? What could be finer!
Antonella, for myself, the 'attention span' issue works the other way. I find myself drifting off at conferences, especially in late-afternoon sessions. Whereas the panel presentations here have my rapt attention! They are so beautifully crafted, and I can rewind to sections I want to watch again; and the Q&As serve both as commentary and introduction - I like to read them first before re-watching the videos.
In answer to Faye's question on the other thread:
Can you tell us how much work you put into this? Did you need a lot of training? What about technical support? Did it cost much money to set up?
I put in quite a lot of hours in December and January, because I was learning as I went along. I do have fantastic tech support (thanks, Rob!), but fortunately I've only needed his help once, and not at all while the conference has been live (the site has worked like a dream!). No training: WordPress is easy once you get the hang of it (electronic Lego), and it's also extremely cheap if you use WordPress.org (WordPress.com is a commercial company, which charges for its services). We purchased the futurestates.org domain with a 10-yr licence, which was an additional expense, but that's not essential - though, it's nice to have a slick URL! You could build this website for around £200 - and it's really not difficult. I am happy to share the technical specs with anyone who is interested.
I haven't commented before now but I just wanted to add my thanks to all of the above. This conference has been timed almost perfectly to accompany the first few weeks of lockdown and I have really enjoyed dipping in in the evenings (the joy of asynchronicity!) - it has been very welcome and stimulating at a time when my brain has felt particularly in need of interesting diversions. The papers have been wonderful - thank you to all.