Saturday, June 25, 2011

Proffie-Flakes at Conferences

I am attending a small conference in my city. It’s enjoyable so far. Yesterday I participated in a good discussion of hamster-fur weaving in the 1910s. However, in one panel there was a professor..well..I assume it was a proffie. He was about 40 and not rumpled enough to be a grad student. (OT, have you all noticed that proffies seem to be most rumpled in their larval stage as gradflakes, and then again at the end when they retire? There’s at least a MA thesis in there. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.) For the entire panel the proffie-flake typed on his laptop. OK, he was near the back of the room, but it was a small room and there were only 9-10 people in the audience so it was obvious. He wasn’t noisy, but it was clear he was doing something else. At first I thought he was only waiting to hear the final paper, but no, he did it though all three papers, and then through the discussion.

I thought it was very rude and wondered, if I were the panel chair, would I have done something? Would you? I don’t mean say something out loud like “Hey! You! Pay attention!” but something quiet, like making you way over to him to ask him to please be courteous to the panel and pay some attention. Would it be worth the possible distraction? Maybe say something to him afterward? Thoughts?


  1. That's one advantage of iPads. They don't click when you type.

    Maybe he was taking notes? Maybe he was writing down everything everyone said to publish in the Eastern Mongolian Fur-Weaving Quarterly?

    I would just ignore it.

  2. I've attended several conference sessions in recent years in which attendees typed the hour or so away. Very rude, imo, especially in a small setting. None were taking notes; I was sitting behind each, and each was doing other stuff--stuff our students do in class that drive us crazy, like emailing and FB surfing.

    Frankly, I don't get it.

  3. At one conference last year, my panel presented to a standing-room-only audience (granted, it was a small room, but still). Someone in the back decided that checking her voicemail, with the speaker turned up loud enough that she may as well have had it on speakerphone, was an appropriate use of her time. And it's not like she was boxed in; she was standing right next to the door. She totally could have stepped outside.

    Go figure.

  4. Maybe he was tweeting? At the last conference I went to everyone was doing that during the discussions, even the panelists! Tweeting about the talk there were at during the talk! I like Twitter and all but it is incredibly annoying.

  5. Apparently, there are inconsiderate douches in all professions.

  6. Tweeting seems to be de rigueur at dedicated digital humanities conferences, and among digital humanists attending other conferences. It can be a solution to the wanting-to-be-in-two-panels-at-once problem, and/or a favor to those who couldn't attend at all, but I still find myself plenty engaged between following papers (absorbing information orally isn't my strength anyway) and recording my own thoughts, questions, etc. that are prompted by the papers. The couple of time I've tried following a twitter feed (I've never tweeted myself), I've found myself distracted from what was going on in the room (even if the twitter feed was ostensibly *about* what was going on in the room). If one has a laptop open and a wireless connection, there's also a strong temptation to start looking up what the speaker has published, chasing down references, etc., which are good things to do later, but distractions while trying to listen to a panel.

    I'm still quite happy attending conferences where most people are taking notes on paper (or the margins of the program), and think the discussion is generally better in such circumstances. I don't think I'd say anything to someone who was using a laptop when nobody else was, but I would have the sense that the person hadn't done a very good job of sensing and fitting into the conference culture.

    Besides, what will happen to the dying arts of daydreaming and doodling if we all start surfing the internet during conferences, boring faculty meetings, etc.?

  7. I take notes obsessively at conferences on my iPad, using qn Apple Bluetooth keyboard which I keep on my lap, in the hope that I'm not clicking too loudly.

  8. If he was tweeting or taking notes, wouldn't he occasionally look a the panel? Something about when he was typing seemed disconnected to what was happening up front. I did take a peek at his laptop as I left when the panel was over. It looked as if he were editing a paper and answering email, but I only got a glimpse and I can not say if that is what he was doing the entire 2 hours...

  9. That "occasionally looking at the panel" is why I use a blutooth keyboard - it's impossible to touch-type on an iPad.

  10. Hrm? Do you mean people actually listen to those things? I usually take it as a nice quiet room in which I can get work done. Usually writing my own talk, which will be given to a similar room of quiet laptops. The sound of rain serenades my powerpoint.

  11. "The sound of rain serenades my powerpoint."

    1. Get a cap pistol.

    2. Fire it into the mike if 20% of your audience is farting around with laptops.

    3. "....As I was saying before I HAD TO PLAY THE JACKASS TO GET YOUR ATTENTION *continue lecture from point you broke off*."

  12. I've noticed similar behavior at conferences I've attended. I think we don't realize how much we pick up our students' behavior. I've noticed this in meetings on campus, too, so it's not behavior limited to conferences.

    I had the following experiences at the last conference I attended:

    1. One guy, whom I assume was from another time zone, came to one of my presentations and promptly fell asleep (before I'd even begun the presentation).

    2. Another checked her email, and told me she was only there to check her email. "Oh, just ignore me; I'm checking email." She said it was the only place in the hotel she could get a free signal. I suggested she try the Starbucks downstairs. She stayed and clicked away instead.

    3. Another group came to my presentation and assured me that they were only there because they had 40 minutes to wait until the bus and my room was closest to the bus stop. They talked through much of my presentation... so much so that several others in the audience turned around to shush them.

    4. At the end of the presentation, a few participants stayed behind to request that I email them the PowerPoint that I'd shown because they simply hadn't had the energy or interest to take notes when they knew they could get the presentation from me later (sound familiar?).

    So, yes, we are as bad, if not worse, than our students, sometimes. My chair likes to say we're worse whenever I try to complain to her about a student's behavior. That's why I love this blog! Someone listens and commiserates.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.