Law and Order Blogging

I’ve always wondered two things about blogs and conferences: first, whether all those people with open laptop lids in the audience are actually listening or not, and, second, why official conference blogs always seem to dry right up as soon as the conference starts.

I’m still not sure on the first point. I wonder if there’s been a conference where the speaker has requested laptop lids shut? I mean, if two or three people in the audience were playing banjos, I would probably ask them to stop. Well, actually, I probably wouldn’t, because that would be pretty cool. But if they were frying eggs, or soldering copper pipe, or making a papier mache doll house, I would probably be distracted and annoyed enough to ask them to wait until I was done speaking.

Somehow, at least so far, the pitter patter of typing has been deemed enough like banjo playing and not enough like frying eggs so that it’s been allowed to fly under the annoyance radar.

Personally, I want to try to engage my audience, and that requires a sort of presence that isn’t possible if they’re all acting like court reporters on Law and Order. My personal spirit-guide on this is Lillian Ross, writer for The New Yorker, who writes, in her book Reporting Back:

I don’t use a tape recorder when I report. To me, the machine distorts the truth. It’s fast and easy, and a lazy way of eliciting talk, but a conversationalist is not necessarily a writer. Tape recorded interviews are not only misleading: they are unrealistic: they are lifeless. I don’t want a machine to do my listening for me. Literal reality rarely rings true. It is not interesting.

To me eye, transcribo-o-blogs are more tape recordorial than thoughtful, mostly because the art in a talk happens once my head explodes into the listener’s, and I don’t think the listener can properly process that explosion and report on it at the same time.

As to the “official blog dries up” situation, I’ve come to understand that: the conversational energy that lives inside a conference blog suddenly finds traction in the reality of the conference. In a sense, it’s like the [warning: Star Trek metaphor] conference has been “beaming in” for several months, and finally all the pattern buffers are aligned, and the physical form of the conference has appeared on the transporter platform, and you want to take it out to dinner, and give it a hug, and sing about it, rather than sitting back behind the machine and hiding behind it.

As Dan blogged yesterday, the Zap conference has been going very, very well. I feel like it’s a good party, with the right mix of people to create enough turbulent conversational energy to sail on through the weekend. When things wind down this afternoon, I think we’ll have reached the top of our game, which, said my old basketball coach Bill Difranceso, is the right time to pack up the ball for the time being, and start thinking about next week’s game.

Who would have thought that a bunch of my old friends, a bunch of librarians, a bunch of 20something technology gurus, and a straggle of people who accidentally wandered in could have so much in common?


Alan's picture
Alan on October 26, 2003 - 14:07 Permalink
To me eye, transcribo-o-blogs are more tape recordorial than thoughtful, mostly because the art in a talk happens once my head explodes into the listener’s, and I don’t think the listener can properly process that explosion and report on it at the same time.

While I do get your point — and even would add the clicky-click is a kin to the rudeness of cell phones being on — I am also reminded of an interview with Wallace Shawn on Morningside years ago where he said that, after My Dinner with Andre he found so many people had taken away unintended conclusions that he had to some degree stopped presupposing the message of value to be drawn from his work. I’d hate to see notes taken from my presentations — or I might be happily surprised. That is why, in this medium, a post-conference discussion is as or of more value than the conference itself.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on October 27, 2003 - 04:09 Permalink

I wondered about the using-laptop-during-talks thing too — though I was guily a few times myself.

art's picture
art on October 27, 2003 - 17:02 Permalink

This comes up a lot in university classrooms, if they have wireless the question becomes whether students be surfing instead of listening. On the other hand, if a student is pulling in information on the instructor’s topic during the session, then it can be quite positive. I must say the Zap crowd certainly types lightly, my clumsy mitts are way too noisy for use during sessions. There are times that the tap-tap can create a lot of machine noise during a presentation but it didn’t seem to happen in Cavendish. I read somewhere about an experiment that saw everyone in a room posting to a screen at the front of the room showing relevant information connected to the topic.

Jonathan Marks's picture
Jonathan Marks on October 27, 2003 - 22:44 Permalink

Hang on….not all taped interviews are lifeless. If it is simply a TRANSCRIPTION of a newspaper article (i.e. raw material) it probably is tedious. But a good radio interview can contain all the passion of any other medium. True- it depends more on the performance skills of the speaker. But good radio draws you in. TV, on the other hand, often shuts you out.

Alan's picture
Alan on October 28, 2003 - 00:36 Permalink

[I would just like to point out that Mr Marks is someone I have admired through his Radio Nederlands work for…ummm…decades and is a multiple award winner for his audio documentaries. I am not worthy.]

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on October 28, 2003 - 01:51 Permalink

Lillian Ross’ comment concerned recording interviews intended for print. In other words, where the dialogue isn’t an interview intended for broadcast, but rather a conversation intended to feed reinterpretation in print. I’ve no argument with the notion that a good radio interview can rock the world as much as anything. And, indeed, I’ve listened to many that have.