The mainly positive experiences of attendees indicate that online conferences are a good alternative to in-person events. But online venues lacked some of the much-desired social environment for networking. We consequently called for the continued development of ways to effectively network.
The Online Alternative
With Douglas, we acknowledge that interacting with a particular ecosystem or visiting an archive or a museum will likely remain an in-person exercise. And creative participation or intense collaboration might need that extra push of being stuck in one place for days on end. But in many cases, existing and ever-improving online tools might be sufficient for the purposes of a meeting: to showcase and exchange research, make new connections and strengthen old friendships.
Part of this experimentation involves going beyond personal expectations and experiences. We need a broader view of how online conferencing affects the philosophical community at large.
The successful online conferences we have seen so far are an indication of the benefits of experimenting with new formats. Online conferencing might feel uncomfortable at first. But with a little patience and creativity, combined with the technological possibilities that grow by the day, even digital socializing can become more than a chore.
The idea of a new normal means that any departure from online conferencing should be well-justified and carefully considered. As Heather Douglas reflected, “the new normal should be online only events, with clear justifications offered for in-person events.”
If the pandemic had any positive effects, one of them was the benefits afforded by new and creative ways to be online. The natural experiment that was forced upon us revealed that many of the pressing issues to be resolved in the philosophical profession can, at the very least, be positively addressed by moving conferences online.
Late last year, we published “The Online Alternative: Sustainability, Justice, and Conferencing in Philosophy” (2020). Using survey data from attendees of four virtual conferences of varying sizes, we and our coauthors argued that online venues offer a valuable alternative to in-person conferences for presenting and engaging with research, and accessibility.
We are not alone in making these arguments. Philosophers across the globe are reflecting, as is their wont, on their experiences organising and attending online conferences and finding similar positive sides to the pandemic. So the likes of Helen de Cruz and the organisers of the Global Digital History of Science Festival join us in calling for more online conferencing.
Learning from Experience
Cutting national and international travel has drastically reduced academic carbon footprints. Researchers in underfunded institutions around the world have been able to attend conferences they normally would have missed. Online conferences also circumvent venue accessibility issues and offer new opportunities with digital tools such as closed captioning.
By Rose Trappes and TJ Perkins
Luckily, the social aspects of online conferencing are becoming more enjoyable. As an example, C. Thi Nguyen notes the remarkable success of introducing structured zoom rooms to the American Society for Aesthetics Annual Conference, offering themes like “Show and Tell Room, 3 Minute Silly Talk Room, Talent Show Room, Joke Room, and Trivia Room.” These kinds of rooms may depart from the in-person status quo of grabbing dinner with a cohort after the day’s events. But they have offered many attendees a great experience in virtual settings.
Asking the Right Questions
The positive results of the pandemic experiment are especially important given the slow roll out of vaccines around the world as well as differential access within countries. We should be especially conscious of the “ghettoization of disease” and late vaccine distribution to developing nations. Philosophers from nations underrepresented in philosophy may be delayed in their “return to normal.” Conference organisers should not move on and forget the lessons we learned from the pandemic.
With the optimism about the unprecedented development and distribution of a vaccine comes the hope for a return to normal. For many philosophers, this includes a desire to travel to attend conferences. But a return to in-person conferences doesn’t leave everyone jumping with joy. In this blog post we reflect on reasons why philosophers ought to make online conferences the new normal, keeping in-person events to a carefully considered minimum.