The silence of the backchannel

I spent yesterday at the annual NEISL conference – it was held at Hotchkiss, a beautiful school in relatively remote Lakeville CT.  As I drove in through the gates, I turned on my phone to retrieve the parking instructions – no signal.

Turns out, there was very little coverage anywhere on campus.  While wondering what kind of withdrawal the students went through when they returned to campus after various breaks, I also appreciated how calm it made things.  Students looking at each other, talking, rather than at their hands texting.

At Hackley, there are very few meetings that I attend where one (or more) participants aren’t checking their phones for incoming texts/e-mail/tweets.  It makes me wonder why we even need to meet face-to-face, since at least one face is also meeting virtually with others and isn’t fully invested in what’s going on at that moment in that room. (and we all remember what happened when Tom Golisano felt that he was a “victim of bad Blackberry etiquette“, don’t we?)

For some reason, there was also little access to wifi during the conference.  We were supplied with a username and password, but it was slow and most of us gave up on using our computers early on in the day (the few that didn’t used them to take notes, not surf the web, check e-mail or tweet).  Were there things that could have been tweeted?  Yes.  But by concentrating on the speaker and the topic, without thinking “oooh – I should tweet that!”, meant that I got more out of the sessions than I might otherwise have done.

Interestingly enough, there were no calls prior to the conference to use this or that hashtag, or to include our blogs or twitter names in our information.  It felt like a return to the conferences of not-so-long-ago, and it was a welcome respite: we were there to be with each other and to learn from one another, and any spreading of the Word would come later after we’d dispersed.

As I now start thinking about ALA10, I’m going to be rethinking my use of Twitter and the backchannel.

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