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More on the reality of conferences

Posted by: Helen Walters on March 12, 2008

Many of those I have talked to at conferences recently definitely feel badly about the environmental effect of flying all over the place to the next can’t-miss event. It really struck me as ironic that the climate change talks last year were held in Bali, meaning that hundreds of politicians and delegates flew thousands of miles to discuss stopping global warming. Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine, whose talk at TED was just fabulous, had to be strongarmed into flying over from the UK to Monterey. And now I just caught the latest update from John Thackara, who confesses that he took 78 flights last year, “which must put me in the top one per cent of individual polluters in the world” — despite his position as a passionate proponent of environmental sensitivity and an evangelist of sustainability.

Thackara namechecks the upcoming “Traveling Without Moving” seminar that’s taking place in Helsinki on 15 March. The seminar promises to give examples of concrete tools to tackle ways to reduce flying and asks a valid question: in the era of communication technologies it is still necessary to be flying people around for face-to-face meetings?

The problem is: The power of conferences really comes from the opportunities it affords attendees to meet people face to face. Networking just isn’t the same when it’s not in person. There is something more powerful and compelling about a real-time, in-real-life conversation rather than a chat via video or by phone. So the question now: Is this just a phase? (ie will younger people not feel this way?) Can virtual conferences work? And finally, why on earth is Thackara — or any of this seminar’s participants, for that matter — flying to Helsinki to take part??

Reader Comments

Anna Mariano Morris

March 12, 2008 9:56 PM

I have been a vangurad and pioneer in "Virtual" work for 7 1/2 years now, being the world first virtual concierge for the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. I reinvented my traditional Concierge position at the hotel using video conferencing technology. I appear live and in real time in the lobby of the hotel but really am working from my home, 80 miles away. I am proof that face to interface can be compelling, personable, memorable, warm and very human. I know I have discovered a solution that may be just the anser for many in the world. :)
Virtual Anna

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