post-show commentary, ii

A few thoughts regarding ASECS 2005:

  • Giles Bergel, Katherine Ellison, and Eve Tavor Bannet each gave a stellar paper on the panel I chaired. As an added bonus, there was a good-sized audience for that panel, and they asked a number of insightful questions. Be on the lookout for Bannet’s forthcoming book, Empire of Letters: Letter Manuals and Transatlantic Correspondence, 1680ñ1820. I do not know what Bergel and Ellison have in the pipline with regard to publishing their work, but those of you interested in book history would do well to keep an eye out for these names, and those of you interested in scholars doing a long history of information technology and media studies should attend particularly to Ellison’s work.
  • My new favorite way to read my papers at conferences is to blow up the font size, turn them into PDFs and read them off my laptop with Adobe Acrobat in full-screen mode. It’s much, much easier than reading from paper, even if it’s more time consuming to create and doesn’t allow you the leeway of last-minute additions, deletions, or marginalia. People tend to frown upon reading from latops. Why is this? Do they think it’s evidence that you’ve been working it right up to the conference? This would be bad because…? To pre-empt any frowning-uponing, I explained my composition process (longhand on a legal pad, then typed into a word processor, then converted to PDF) and why I use the laptop. I wasn’t just being self-indulgent with this quick little preface, however; I was giving an example of cultural associations we have with technologies of communication and linking the example to the work that I do in the eighteenth century.
  • My professional network is growing bit by bit. I have to work at this aspect of academic life, but it seems to be getting easier. One task I hope to fulfill this week is email followups with all the people I talked to. For example, I made an agreement with one person to exchange writing (like, right now), and I need to get that article draft in the mail to her.
  • The grad student who corresponded with me about my diss came up to me to introduce herself. She said–approximately…I’d had a few drinks at the reception at this point–“Someone told me I should look into your work, and I wanted to introduce myself to you.” Wow. I really need to wake up to the fact that people notice and respect the work I do, that I’m not a fraud who’s masquerading his way through this, and that there are things I know and know how to do that can be helpful to people who are not as far along in their development as academics as I am. One person I met told me she’d been reading my blog for a year and was actually kind of intimidated by my authoritative persona. Really? Hmm. Even when you found out I can’t even get my own university to give me summer research money?
  • As much as things have been bothering me the last few months, talking with colleagues from all over has reminded me of the things in my (personal and professional) life that are quite good. Getting stuck in the imagined narrative trajectory of your life can be intensely counterproductive. Author your way out of it and into another.
  • If you’ve attended 5 hours of papers being read from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., that’s probably enough for one day.
  • At the conference book exhibit, I took advantage of the 50% display copy discount to acquire Sensory Worlds in Early America by Peter Charles Hoffer, (a book with an
    Amazon page that led me to another interesing find: How Early America Sounded, by Richard Cullen Rath.)
  • Someone who only knew what I look like from this pic said, “Oh, I wouldn’t have recognized you without the blonde hair.” And I replied, “Yeah, it looks kind of boring, now, doesn’t it?” I need to get something tattooed or pierced, maybe.
  • When waiting to use one of the hotel business center computers to check email, I noticed someone was writing an entry up for her LiveJournal site. Catching the username, I read her site when it was my turn to use the computer. She’s an ASECS attendee, too. Was this unethical of me to look? I wouldn’t have tried to see what the username (or even what she was typing at all) if I hadn’t recognized the distinctive LiveJournal interface from a distance.
  • The business center printer wasn’t working at all during the conference. That’s convenient. A little too convenient, if you ask me.

And so to bed.

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6 thoughts on “post-show commentary, ii

  1. Ever think of connecting the ethical question of catching a glance of what someone is composing/reading in public with the production modes you outline (long hand, keying, formating)as an “example of cultural associations we have with technologies of communication and linking the example to the work that I do in the eighteenth century”? You were after all intrigued by the appearance of genre usually intended for publication (the blog). You weren’t snooping through the person’s email.
    Aside: last week I boldly enjoyed reading The Story of O on the subway — amazing what gulf exists between what people observe and what they comment upon to the person being observed.
    You did not break the expectation of privacy found in the “lieu de composition”. You didn’t gush and fawn. And you didn’t disclose the name of the person in your own reporting. To me that demonstrates a certain curtesy and savoir vivre — necessary foundations for the ethical life.

  2. Sorry, G., but I must take issue with reading from a laptop. Sure technology has changed life in a myriad of ways and we shouldn’t be luddites. But, speaking as a member of an audience for panels in which presenters read from laptops, I find it distracting. Watching the speaker scroll down and fuss with the computer is infinitely more distracting than watching someone flip a page. Also, more often than not, I assume that someone reading from a laptop has only just finished composing his paper. What’s wrong with this, you ask? Well, for one, *most* people do not write lucid, accessible prose off the bat. It’s difficult enough to sit, listen, and synthesize a speaker’s argument. Hastily written prose only exacerbates the situation.

  3. I see what you mean, Geoffrey. However, I have to admit that I almost always write the conclusion at the conference, and when I read from printed text, I just put in the handwritten pages at the end. I try to incorporate some of the stuff others have had to say at that event. Usually, I’ve done this in longhand, and those in the audience cannot tell I’ve switched from my printed text to handwritten text. Frankly, it seems to me that almost everyone is fiddling with their prose up to the last minute. The degree of fiddling, granted may vary widely.
    Shouldn’t we be able to tell if someone’s written lucid, accessible prose by listening to their paper, rather than noting which method of scripting their talk they use?
    And I don’t have to fuss any more with my computer than I do with sheets of paper: if you use full-screen mode in Adobe Acrobat, the click of a button jumps you to the next page. Printed pages can get out of order — not so PDF pages.

  4. Re. looking at the lj; while I wouldn’t do my blog from an academic conference, I have checked it from an academic library once or twice (at one of those computers that’s up in the stacks where no one can see). I don’t think it’s any harm, but if I were her it would probably freak me a little. My suggestion is, next time, just say something like “‘scuse me, are you writing in your blog or checking someone else’s? I have one too, and am always looking for other academic bloggy types.” Friendly, non-threatening, good networking.
    I don’t think it was unethical, though. Just glad it wasn’t me :)

  5. I think the success/distraction of reading from a laptop depends a lot upon the height of hte presenter and the height of the podium. With paper in hand, people know how to make eye contact with the audience — it’s a lot harder to do from the screen.

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