We have received some inquiries about the possibility of presenting at Joss in June via Skype or other forms of video communication. We’ve thought about this – carefully, we think – and have decided that we are unable to accept such presentations for Joss in June. This was not an easy decision to reach – the world of Whedon scholarship is a far-flung one, with high-caliber, thought-provoking work being done across the globe and (let’s face it) Shelby is a bit off the beaten track. So why not open the gates to allow video presentations? Since we believe this is going to be an ongoing issue for conference conveners to wrestle with, let us explain our reasoning.
There are some obvious “pluses” to allowing video presentations. First, to the degree that this option opens up the conference to those who might not be able to travel to the conference site due to distance, timing, funding, etc., we see this as a positive. In addition to the advantage of presentations being made that might not otherwise happen, there is the fact that technology allows for an interactive presentation, with the speaker being able to take questions from the audience, so the experience need not be a static, one-sided, “just press play” sort of presentation. Furthermore, technology now allows remote attendance of other panels, and the ability to participate in the Q&A afterwards from a distance.
However, there are some undeniable “downsides” to this option that also need to be considered. We both strongly believe that one of the primary strengths of conferences in general is the mixing of attendees. The academic Whedon community consists of scholars from a dizzyingly diverse array of disciplines – we have historians, linguists, sociologists, media critics, and lawyers, just to name a few. Having the opportunity to hear work that is outside our main area of expertise (our “comfort zone,” if you will) challenges our own work by pushing us to a higher level of examination and rigor. This mixing also continues the proud tradition of building community and helping one another along that has always been a hallmark of Whedon scholarship. A great deal of this interaction takes place outside of the formal panels and presentations in spur-of-the-moment coffee breaks, conversations between unexpected table-mates at mealtimes, and even outside of the bounds of the conference entirely. Despite the proliferation of portable devices and applications for video-chatting/conferencing, we feel strongly that direct, face-to-face interpersonal communication remains the most productive and enjoyable means of advancing this professional dialogue.
Also, the technical logistics required to create a maximally interactive virtual conference environment are currently beyond the resources of Joss In June. While remote presentations would be possible, remote attendance and interaction at other panels would not be, and we feel that this situation would decrease the value of the conference for both the distance presenters and in-person attendees.
Finally, the elephant in the room must be acknowledged. In these tight economic times, if universities and other workplaces see an opportunity to cut expenses, those expenses will be cut. While this may be a near inevitability, we’d prefer for Joss in June to not be the first pebble in the avalanche of “You don’t really need to go. You can present by Skype from your office, so we’re not going to pay anything toward your travel.” While that may help an individual build his or her own CV, we think it has the potential to impede the overall growth of the field by having scholars present in isolation.
To all who are disappointed by our decision, we hope you understand our reasoning. We want to talk with you and we want you to have the chance to talk with your colleagues in a relaxed (dare we say, Southern) fashion. So come on down (or up, or over) to North Carolina and visit us this June!