(An unexpected appearance by the Two Ronnies went some way to alleviate frustration about the lack of wifi at OpenEd 2010 - Richard Hall and Joss Winn in full flow).
I was at the Open Ed 2010 conference last week. First off, I want to say that it was great to finally meet Brian Lamb and I really enjoyed presentations from Richard Hall, David Wiley, Erik Duval, Joss Winn and others. So this post is not a comment on the quality of the conference or the discussions I had there.
The conference was held in the science museum CosmoCaixa. This is a great museum and my daughter loved it. It is, sadly, not a great conference venue. Although they had wifi in every room which you could connect to, the bandwidth coming into the museum was so low that in reality no-one could get online (I had visions of a 14K modem in an office somewhere which then got fed into all these lecture halls with great AV facilities and their own routers).
This made me reflect on how connectivity, and the amplified conference has become the norm for me. Being unable to connect had a serious impact on the nature of the conference I think, in the following ways:
- Loss of archive - It couldn’t be streamed, or tweeted, or live-blogged, so the more holistic, distributed record of a conference that has become the norm was lost.
- No backchannel – within the conference itself not being able to chat with other participants and share thoughts meant some of the immediate conversation around a presentation was lost.
- Stunted presentations – many presenters wanted to at least demonstrate a site. I foolishly wanted to play some YouTube vids (although thankfully an Ethernet connection had been found for presenters by the time I came to present which gave some limited access). Being unable to do so made it seem like we had been sucked into a conference in 1995.
- No wider participation – at least with those present you could have conversations over coffee, but I am also accustomed to have dialogue with those in my network who aren’t present. There were many time I would have tweeted during a talk and I know I would have had a response from someone in my network who wasn’t present.
- No amplification – if one of the measures of success for a conference is its impact in its field then to lose connectivity for its duration results in it effectively being isolated. Not to be able to amplify the content and discussion at a conference to a global network severely restricts its significance.
Before someone jumps in and says ‘perhaps you should try talking to the person next to you’, yes I did plenty of that. I’m capable of doing both. And I think there is increasing value in hosting ‘disconnect’ events, where you deliberately don’t have access, such as writing retreats. But these types of events are geared up for this and it’s what you sign up for. What the experience here brought home to me is that amplification is not an interesting extra or a techie nice-to-have – it’s essential.