Covid & Conferences: What's Left to Blog About?
Updated: Jul 9
For several years now I’ve enjoyed the blog posts of many talented writers, thinkers, and teachers. Ian O’Byrne, Audrey Watters, H.J. DeWaard, Barbara Fister, Doug Belshaw, Maha Bali, Sherri Spelic and Laura Hilliger’s posts have provoked, challenged, and taught me much. Many of them even inspired me to blog (don’t blame them). But I never got into the swing of blogging regularly. I’d typically write something once in a while, mostly when I wanted to share my take on the fields of media and information literacy or advocate for collaborating across disciplines with my research partner Spencer Brayton.
But I haven’t felt like or had the bandwidth for writing much of anything during the past couple of years. The reasons are fairly obvious . . .
The state of the world
The pandemic (and living in an immunocompromised household)
The state of the world including the pandemic (and living in an immunocompromised household)
What could I possibly add that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by someone else? Also, the questions posed in this post “Is blogging a futile, self-afflicting, empty exercise” regularly resurface.
But I recently attended my first in-person media literacy conference since March 2020. That is a good reason to write something, surely? Get back up on the horse. The horse being the blog, as it were.
The conference was filled with people I wanted to chat and hang out with, friends and colleagues I’ve known for a while, and people whose work I admire and respect (that sounds like I don’t admire and respect the work of friends and colleagues but you know what I mean). I was really happy to see faces I’d only seen on a screen in several years. The panels, discussions and papers were thought provoking and provided the opportunity to think through various debates in the field as well as consider new works, approaches, and researchers. And I know how hard the conference organizers worked to make the event happen. So ultimately I rationalized my decision to attend the International Media Literacy Research Symposium this way:
This is the best option for tiptoeing back into conferences given its small size
We can drive to Wisconsin (not ready to get on a plane)
The weather will be decent, we can eat outside
Surely we all need to get back into it (what is “it” again?)
We can’t live in isolation forever
We’ll adjust those k-95s straps (maskacne be damned) and lose all feeling in the ears
And I’ll admit between the bouts of “ooh, too close” and “how many are in the room?, I’ll skip the drinks”, I enjoyed meeting new people, reconnecting with old ones, making small talk (enjoy is a stretch, who am I kidding?) and even hugging friends (and being Irish, obviously this is wildly out of character).
But I had, and continue to have, mixed feelings about attending the conference.
In the carefree times (not really) before the pandemic, climate crises, (term I recently came across while reading Maeve Higgins’ book) as well as a whole host of diversity, equity and inclusion issues were only mentioned in passing at conferences.
But before and after this one I am struggling to reconcile my in-personness with these issues and the obvious accompanying privilege.
In the “The Future of Conferences” the authors observe,
“Pre-pandemic, most conferences tended to adopt a standard structure with very little evolution or experimentation. In the future, we envisage a ‘mix and match’ model based on a library of solutions that can be adapted to the particular needs of each conference”.
They offer all kinds of 'mix and match' conference solutions. Well worth a read.
But perhaps Small Pond Science stated it most plainly,
“If your society is serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion, you need to keep having online conferences”.
The same article highlighted research by Matthew Skiles and colleagues who “investigated the impact of the switch to online scientific meetings in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion” noting unsurprisingly, that attendance was generally higher, but especially so by women and LGBTQ+ scientists as well as international participants.
“How quickly all the promises made to “the vulnerable” at the beginning of COVID have been forgotten. By continuing to go to conferences that are only in-person, you encourage more conferences that are only in-person. And that is exclusionary to so many different people! It excludes not only disabled and chronically ill library workers, but any and all library workers who have disabled people in their lives!”
This post haunted me throughout the conference. And yes, I hear you, admittedly it didn’t stop me from attending.
So despite having an immunocompromised partner, I too have now contributed to this exclusionary system.
Making it somewhat blog worthy (maybe?).
Thanks for reading. If you fancy, share how you are navigating covid and conferences.