Brian Kelly raises the delicate issue of conference wifi etiquette by highlighting complaints made to a live blogger at a recent event with respect to his ‘distracting‘ typing. Kelly supports the use of wifi and laptops, but for ‘purposes relevant to the session’ without suggesting how participants might be policed to ensure that their laptop use is indeed for relevant purposes (or who defines what is ‘relevant’). The notion of strutting, Sally Bowles-like around the conference venue flicking off switches with a riding crop whenever inappropriate use is discovered has a rather alarming appeal, but might not be the best approach to managing the issue.
There’s definitely been a signficant increase in laptop use at events in the time since I joined CETIS, although inevitably there was always a core of laptop users tapping away even in the earliest days. Wifi provision is a significant issue when considering venues, particularly for our annual conference, and people often seem disappointed, or even a bit nonplussed, when we can’t provide it. But why do we set so much store by it? Is that email really so urgent? Will your IRC channel collapse without you there? However did we network before CrowdStatus?
Kelly, Clow and those they cite comment on the value of live blogging, and the invaluable service it provides to people who can’t be at an event. But does it? I’ve followed, and thoroughly enjoyed, Twitter updates on events, but more for the subjective, qualitative impression they give of the event rather than for their information content. Live blogs are useful narratives, but out of context from the event they describe and lacking reflection in the light of the day as a whole and subsequent consideration, how much value do they actually provide beyond slidecasts and podcasts? If everyone’s live blogging and twittering to the world, who’s going to read the blogs – and who’s going to listen to the speakers?
It’s kind of ironic that I learned about Kelly’s post in the backchannel of this year’s Eduserv Foundation Symposium, as I found the live chat system wildly distracting itself. It didn’t help that, owing to a combination of non-Eduserv related factors, I could barely hear what was being said in the live streaming, but I found the activity in the backchannel so ‘loud’ that it completely drowned out what the speakers were trying to say. I’ve found this in the past in – of all things – training webinars where there were no sound problems at all, just a chatbox buzzing with babble and an increasingly demoralised sounding speaker struggling in vain to make his points. Yes, there can be useful information there – such as the alert to Kelly’s post – but it can itself be buried under the rest of the chatter.
Focusing on the technology, however, diverts attention away from the real issue, which is perceptions of courtesy towards presenters and delegates. Only a few people feel it’s appropriate to speak to each other during presentations (and even Paddington’s hardest stare won’t stop the truly dedicated disrupter), yet many people seem to feel that the same standards don’t apply to unspoken communications. Is this because there’s something inherent to these technologies that make their use somehow acceptable, or just because they’re so new that accepted standards of behaviour around their use simply haven’t emerged yet?