Let me explain. I am in San Francisco for the Association of Asian Studies annual meetings. For someone who doesnâ€™t like conferences, I sure go to one too many. AAS is my fourth conference of this young year, not taking into account one that (Sepoy and) I missed in March, incurring some Kinra wrath. And there is one more coming up in two weeks time in Chicago.
Itâ€™s not like I donâ€™t like conferences but I just donâ€™t find them serving any of my purposes. Well, they don’t seem to facilitate much intellectual engagement and other considerations/benefits of conference attendance are minor. So my interest is primarily ethnographic, to observe the tribe ‘academica’ in all its glory and hopefully make fun of it (by extension of me too).
All this needs to happen in real time. But our professional associations of Asianists (AAS) or historians (AHA) religionists (AAR), anthropologists (AAA) and so on and so forth don’t seem to recognize this salient fact. So when they negotiate with the Marriotts and the Hiltons to hold their conferences, usually free wireless access isn’t one of the requirements. The hotels too want to charge an exhorbitant amount to provide access to Internet and have no interest in throwing one more freebee at thier guests.
In January at the AHA in Philadelphia, I wondered sitting at a roundtable on academic blogging and listening to historian bloggers: why doesn’t AHA think of wireless access as a requirement at these sessions? Even presenters would need to show some digital resources and it was not funny to watch presenters at this panel having to type in a password ten times to make something work. At the AHA, I also saw this disgraceful sight of hundreds of historians, waiting patiently in a large room to be connected to the world. While the profession itself teaches patience to historians, I donâ€™t think any of them would have ever waited for a concert ticket or a baseball game in the same way. But here they did, to check their email.
Same at the AAS. Marriott doesnâ€™t offer wireless anywhere, unless one pays over and above a large chunk of change that we (or someone) pay for the room.
I think we need to ask our professional associations to get more for us. How are we supposed to listen to talks and engage speakers constructively, if we can not instantly verify what they are saying? Yes, our listening practices too are changing and now we can not listen to a talk or a lecture without having google at our disposal! Also how are we supposed to arrange meetings with friends and collaborators, if our wireless devices (let us ignore cell phone for a moment) don’t work. Surely, we need IM and Email to arrange to socialize. Perhaps, none of this was necessary in the past but we live in the present.
Indeed, how can anyone advance the cause of civilization today, without access to the virtual world?