Monday, February 11, 2013

You Don't Always Have To Be There: Is That a Problem?

Can you work on line with someone you've never met in person? Sure. Can you be good friends as well without ever having met? I don't think so.

So I agree with Michael LeClerc's post at Mocavo rejecting the idea that national genealogy conferences should become all-virtual. As he says, "Interpersonal communication is vitally important in the growth of any field of endeavor. This is accomplished in far better ways in person than online."

So why is national conference attendance these days stuck (at best) in the low four figures when family history is so popular? Because, while still important, national conferences are less essential. Attendance used to be higher because there were no webinars, no mailing lists, no web sites, no bloggers. For many genealogical purposes you had to be there. Now you don't. People have more options if they want to buy a book or bumper sticker, or join an organization, or hear a particular speaker. (Same thing applies to chess clubs, which have diminished but not died.) I know I'm more free than I would have been in the past to skip national events held in places inconvenient to me.

We all have more choices. In principle that's good. In practice it's darn confusing.

Take podcasts. And webinars. I rarely do, because I can always put them off. Back when I had to be tuned in at a particular time, I did so -- or did without. Now I can wait, and often I wait until I've forgotten I wanted to listen.

That particular response may be a generational thing. But it's true across the board that cyberspace's ever-growing menu of options and timeshifting opportunities means that every option has to sell itself more vigorously than ever before. National conferences are no exception, and they may need actual restructuring -- more variants on the regulation hour-long lecture, for sure -- as well as better pennypinching and better marketing. (That said, I'm not sure if even a restructured conference would tempt me onto yet another long airline flight.)

My guess is that we're still in the early stages of reconciling our human nature as hard-wired gregarious creatures with our increasing involvement in cyberspace. There's unprecedented room to try new things, but not everything will work.

I will venture one prediction: Our grandchildren will be long dead and forgotten before the pleasure of being in the same physical place as like-minded people has palled. It's always a good time there.

Michael LeClerc, "What Will the Future Bring for National Conferences?," Mocavo Geneaology Blog, posted 8 February 2013 ( : accessed 10 February 2013).

Harold Henderson, "You Don't Always Have To Be There: Is That a Problem?," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 February 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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