Being there

Well, I finally managed yesterday to get some time to complete a proposal for a workshop at ALT-C 2009. I co-authored the abstract with Tara Alexander, who is in the Faculty of Health and Social Work here at the University of Plymouth. I won't spill the beans on the workshop topic just yet, but it is ironic that, if it is accepted, and we both travel for several hours all the way up to the University of Manchester to present it, that most of it could be done remotely without us, or any participant, actually being there. People will be able to participate for most of it sat at home on their Internet linked computers if they choose. It's nothing new. I have been delivering remote classes for over 15 years and so have others. But I still find it interesting after all these years that people still want to come together face to face to do workshops, seminars, participate in lectures and demonstrations, and generally network in a co-present manner. This despite all the issues of travel pollution, rising fuel prices, travel delays, terrorist threats, stress and anxiety, and so on.

People still have an innate need to meet together face to face, and just about every survey and study I have read on the subject reports that face to face is still valued as the richest social experience. Well - of course - you reply. Yet I wonder just how long this might last, with emerging technologies increasingly mimicking and even replicating co-present experiences.

Second Life has its detractors, but the majority of SLifers I have spoken to talk about the 'other worldliness' and addictive interactive nature of the multi-user virtual environment saying they love it and invest a 'lot more time on it than they should'. Millions of people play almost obsessively on massively-multi player online role-playing games (MMORPGS) such as World of Warcraft and interact socially on another plane. My own children spent an inordinate amount of time on MSN and Bebo talking to their friends in the evening, even though they have spent all day at school with them. We are a technologically mediated society, and I could go on, and on, and...

Here's a question: Is Western industrialised society becoming a world in which we are reluctantly substituting our favoured forms of communication for synthetic versions? Are we migrating to virtual forms of social interaction because we don't have the time or space to meet personally anymore? Or is it simply the case that we are learning and practising new communication skillsets as we increasingly spread our lives ever more thinly across so many spaces and technologies?

I'm looking forward to going to ALT-C again this year - I will be there physically, but I will also be there virtually through my blog, Twitter, Flickr,, Crowdvine... through my iPhone...


rubken said…
Some of the non-present communication is taken on reluctantly. I hate conference calls as I find it difficult to communicate effectively(this blog expresses conference call frustration well). However I love Twitter, FriendFeed, etc.

I think the difference is the intention behind the communication. A conference call has a fixed purpose and the method feels clumsy but social communication sites are thier own idom with a more general purpose (for me at least).

One interesting aspect of Internet communication is the control we have over whom we communicate with. I think this ends up making us less tolerant of irritation. If someone annoys me on Twitter I can unfollow them. I can't do that with my neighbour.
Anonymous said…
Well, we try to be clear that CrowdVine is an enhancement for real-world communication, not a replacement.

Our position is that a conference gives you a wonderful opportunity for networking and learning but that attendees rarely have the information they need to follow through. We provide that by making it easy to find people of interest and through discussions that give everyone a common understanding of the session topics.

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