A few weeks ago, I attended the Association of Internet Researchers Annual Conference, AoIR 10.0 Internet:Critical, in Milwaukee. I decided to go at the last minute, and I thoroughly enjoyed the conference sessions and Siva Vaidhyanathan's wonderful keynote, "The Googlization of Everything and the Theology of Google." I had never attended this conference before, and I was interested in hearing how some of the topics I am interested in discussed in other fields. One of the most interesting panels I attended focused on the idea of privacy and social networks, and the panelists Fred Stutzman, Rachel McLean and Marie Griffiths, and Anthony Hoffmann discussed different ways that individuals manage their online identities, blur public and private lives in online spaces, and adhere (or not) to accepted current web etiquette. Like most sessions at the conference, this panel focused on one large cultural shift: Social media technologies have changed the ways that people relate to each other and the world around them. As this panel asked, what happens when we're always on? When we're always connected? How do we manage these different aspects of our lives and our selves in online and offline spaces?
These questions were also being asked of those who attended the conference in a different way. The conference organizers also set up a Twitter account and asked all conference attendees to use the hashtag #ir10 to discuss the conference. This was the second conference I attended with my trusty laptop and a ubiquitous Internet connection (the first being Computers and Writing 2009), and I always find it to be a confusing negotiation. The Twitter backchannel conversation is always interesting, but often distracting to my own conference experience. By following along, I can keep up with the sessions I'm not able to attend, but I also have to decide what conversation to privilege. At its worst, following the Twitter conversation can give me envious feeling to know that there are other sessions going on at the same time, as if I were constantly looking over my shoulder at a cocktail party, wondering where all the better, more important people were. Twitter can allow for another forum through which to discuss the ideas of the conference, which definitely happened at IR 10.0, while others used it to promote their own sessions or to coin and promote their own terms. People who coulldn't make it to Milwaukee also joined in, and it became a great way to open up the conference conversation to a larger audience as well. (Something like this also happened at an invite-only education conference a few months back, chronicled in this Time story.)
What I find most helpful about Twitter is that I can instantly see others' reactions to the same material, and they often give me insights on ideas that aren't brought up in the question and answer session. This feature can also be a drawback, however. At Computers and Writing, I watched Twitter turn the room against one of the conference's keynote speakers, as audience members had instant validation for their negative feelings about the presentation. (You can find a nice discussion of that event on this blog.)
By the end of the second day, I found myself in a conference room with a dead laptop battery and no accesible electrical outlets, and I was forced to go back to my old conference routine: taking notes with pen and paper. Turning off the multi-tasking and just focusing on the presentations, by then, felt like a relief, and I wondered if Twitter hindered more than it enhanced my conference experience.
I'm interested in hearing from others about this. What are your Twitter practices at conferences? Do you like to follow the online conversation, or prefer to focus exclusively on the face-to-face conversation? What do you consider to be best tweeting practices while attending conferences? What is considered good Twitter etiquette?