Agency in Virtual Conference Participation
When I told my husband this morning that I was all excited to follow the Digital Researcher 2012 conference by Vitae he asked:
But how do you get the conference experience then; of the middle aged man with the scruffy beard who corners you at the coffee and biscuit table to ask some pedantic silly question, while dropping crumbs down his shirt when all you really want is a spot of tea with milk?
I told him I would Google a picture of said stereotype—incidentally Google came up with a picture of Donald Trump—go figure!
Anyhow, throughout the day I popped into the conference (virtually), via Twitter, and followed the proceedings. While doing so—and admittedly missing out on the ‘real life experience’ along the coffee table—I came to realize that it was not always clear who of the participants was physically or virtually-only involved. This realization led to wondering about agency within a conference environment, and how the adding of a virtual dimension changes agency.
For instance one of the tweeters was rather upset that s/he came to a conference to be told several times the function of hash-tag in Twitter. Would I have been at the conference I would have been rather upset as well. However, no one seemed to answer this person—voice in the wilderness, amongst all these tweets popping up. Had said participant asked or complained about the repetitive nature of a basic social media function during a seminar or tea break, people would have had to answer. Within the virtual strand of the conference the comment got simply lost in the ether.
As a virtual participant I did not have access to the information about the hash-tags or I did not have to have access. I am not sure if this was my prerogative or involuntary exclusion, because I had no time to listen to some of the life streams. The issues of agency, such as access to content as “participant’s choice” or “being chosen for the participant”, certainly deserve further exploration [hint hint research funds].
However, one really misses said coffee table conversations and crucial “getting to know” situations. Having met fellow academics at conferences, during my postgraduate degree, led to friendships, exchange and encouragement during my PhD, help with academic writing and collaboration—the impact of my new “peeps” on Twitter remains to be seen.