Attending a conference where there are people you know is a million times better than one where you don’t. I’m a shy person (shocker!) so without a liaison or two to introduce me to new people, the sad truth is a probably won’t meet new people. And I will wander around awkward and alone until I get so fed up I go home early and miss something potentially interesting. So I’m awfully glad that there is a good-sized Simmons contingent here in Columbus this year.
I attended the New Members Brunch yesterday, and really appreciate that they hold an event like this at the beginning of a conference, before sessions begin (ahem, ALA). I did start to understand this whole SIG thing a little better, and heard over and over again that ASIS&T is a strong community, that people consider it a professional home, and that once you get involved you’re probably going to be involved for life. There are a few things that I think would have made it a little better: It would be nice if they labeled the tables with the actual SIG names instead of acronyms. Sure, each table had a cheat sheet on it, but you didn’t realize that until you’d already picked a table to sit at based purely on chance. It would also have been nice if there was an ASIS&T veteran at each table to introduce her/himself to newbies and introduce them to each other so there would potentially not be so much awkwardness (again, maybe I’m just a shy and awkward person…but I didn’t feel alone in this yesterday morning, so…). Finally, I would have appreciated hearing a little more about how to navigate the conference and what events are really important, etc. rather than hearing about veteran members’ favorite memories or most embarrassing moments. They were entertaining stories, and certainly served to show what a strong community ASIS&T is, which is appealing. But it also made me, at least, feel like a bit of an outsider. And I still felt a little unsure how to navigate the conference.
The plenary session after the brunch was fascinating. Of course, I didn’t take notes, and having been up since 4 am, I was a little sleepy. The speaker was Genevieve Bell, from Intel’s Digital Home Group, and she primarily spoke about an area of research I haven’t given too much thought to in the past: a sort of anthropology of internet users. She talked about how people experience the internet, and how that, in many places of the world, is very different from how Western, hyper-connected, (wealthy) people experience the internet. I really appreciated her challenge to broader my perceptions, and to really think about how use will be different, will be changing, in the future. Very interesting stuff in relation to questions of the Digital Divide, and in relation to changing tools and access mediums (mobile devices, GPS devices, etc.). I’d love to find some books and other sources that look at the internets from this anthropological/ethnological kind of perspective.
Howard Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, among other books) and Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur, among other books) gave their reactions and thoughts in relation to Genevieve’s presentation, but I have to be really honest. I was WIPED OUT and had a really, really hard time paying attention, and an even hard time remembering what they said. Grr. What I mostly picked up was a bit of debate around elitism in terms of perceptions and uses of the internet, and how it’s impacting cultural production. But…yeah I was drifting.
I decided not to attend any of the afternoon sessions, figuring it would serve me better to rest, and it did. I check into my hotel room and read email and generally enjoyed sitting for a few hours. The Welcome Reception was at 6.30, and it was mostly chaotic and very stuffy, but it was still nice to chat with other Simmons folks who are here and I did manage to meet a few people while waiting in the drink line. I was actually kind of surprised to discover how few Masters students are here. The students are mostly PhD students, and there is, I think, a prioritization of research that goes on here. People kept asking me what my research is on, and I felt kinda lame saying, “Oh, I’m doing research, I’m in a masters program to become a librarian.” But whatever.
SIG Management (don’t remember the acronym; I’m not quite there yet) were kind enough to invite me out to dinner, which was the highlight of my day yesterday, largely because I felt like I really met some new people, instead of simply engaging in awkward chit-chat while standing in line. We went to Buca di Beppo, which are all over Southern California, but I’d never been to one before. Definitely a fun spot, and the food was good, though, y’know, I’m an Italian food snob, so…
All in all, a wonderful welcome to ASIS&T.
UPDATE: Spinstah took much better notes than I did at the plenary session, and I would recommend you get over there to check out her notes immediately.