What are conferences really about?
[I meant for this to be a serious conference write-up, but my brain got in the festive spirit, and everything went a little silly. Enjoy!
I haven’t been to a huge amount of academic conferences or symposia, but from those I have attended I have learned a great deal. In particular I have learned that it’s all about what happens in the foyer. There are tests, operated by some shady ethnographic research body and funded by behaviour modification pharmaceutical corporations. But do not fear; I have the inside scoop!
Think about the registration desk: A pack is handed to you, and you innocently fix the badge to your lapel at the perfect angle. The no-nonsense angle that says, “Yes, I’m an academic, I’m supposed to be here,” but that also says, “Yes, I’m an academic, and I don’t care whether you think I’m supposed to be here”. There can’t be anything wrong with that, can there? That’s what you think! Every change in badge position and angle is catalogued and plotted on a giant geographic graph of gradient about gender and gerontology, which is then used to determine the potential sales of your next monograph. But that’s not the worst thing! The most formidable aspect of the name badge is its ability to render itself invisible to its wearer at some point during the closing notes. The very last piece of data it gathers is what time you take it off, and how many people saw you wearing it outside school grounds.
Next time you approach the refreshments table, take a moment to wonder why nothing is labelled and why there are no instructions. Those neat rows of cups aren’t as innocent as they look. They serve a more terrifying, more nefarious purpose, almost too shocking to believe! It’s a test, I say, a test! Take a look at those nearest to you. Is someone paying a little too much attention to how you operate the pump action flask? Do they ask you obvious questions like, “Is that the coffee?” as you fill your mug with a lukewarm fine Columbian blend? Your more optimistic thoughts may be that these people are trying to ‘network’. Don’t be so blind! They’re in on it! Their badge-cams are automatically logging how long it took you to find the milk, and someone on the end of the wire is applying out-of-context content analysis to your small talk. All of this helps the researchers decide if the embarrassing and belligerent Q&A plant takes the seat next to you during the following panel.
I have to sign off now, I’ve already said too much!