At the weekend I attended remotely the Theorizing The Web 2013 conference. Before telling you how brilliant it was I’m going to question my own terms.
First, in describing my participation as happening ‘remotely’, by watching the livestream of talks online and by taking part in the #ttw13 twitter hashtag discussion, I misrepresent things. For, unlike probably all other conferences I have taken part in online, there was nothing remote about my experience of Theorizing The Web 2013. The organisers, Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey, practise what they preach. They have designed a happening that embeds the IRL talks and discussions in a university, into the digital contexts that form the subject of those discussions. Or is it the other way round? That’s my point. Whilst I was asking questions to panelists (via twitter), talking to delegates and watching and listening to the speakers, I felt the opposite of remote from proceedings. This photo by Aaron Thompson is a brilliant evocation of the ‘embedded’ nature of #ttw13. All those people sat in the room listening to the speakers and putting their hands up to ask questions, are also online on their laptops and ipads, following the #ttw13 discussion on twitter, looking at the speakers’ presentation slides online and chatting to other participants via the web. Do I wish I’d gone to NYC and been there in person? Yes. Do I think I missed out on anything (apart from what looked like a rocking after party) by doing it online? No. In some ways I may have even seen more and talked to more people through ‘remote’ participation than I had I been at CUNY trying to fit everything in and talk to everyone face to face.
The other term I used that I am not entirely happy with is ‘conference’. #ttw13 may follow the format of an academic conference, with a keynote speaker and seminar talks and Q and As, but again, it is not like any conference I have been to before. The conference structure tends to be quite static. You have to listen and be quiet during sessions then get to talk to people, often accompanied by far too much alcohol, in the evenings. But the embeddedness of #ttw13 meant that many of us were chatting whilst watching talks, and even watching more than one talk at once, going online, googling names, papers, images, being ‘active’ in a way the traditional conference doesn’t allow. I found ‘networking’ online at #ttw13 richer and more meaningful than those awkward conversations I have had with academics in conference venues, realising I have little in common with them inspite of our shared ‘research interests’.
oh. I think I might have conveyed some of my enthusiasm for #ttw13 in trying to challenge its/my terminology. Perhaps these videos of the live streamed talks will also put across what a lively, deep-thinking and fun occasion it was. I will write some more observations in due course. But mainly I am very happy I stumbled across Jurgenson and PJRey on – yes – twitter, and that I am a part of the theorizing the web project.
Photo: Aaron Thompson