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Having some presenters attending in person and others via skype seems to me highly unfair. The people who show up in person dedicate much more time and effort (and possibly money) for the conference, while those who skype in spend just two hours of their time, while sitting at home. In my experience this shows an imbalance of power: the bigshots enjoy the conference from their living room, while the lowlies have to travel and pay to attend.

If the skype-presenters reply that they also have a cost, namely missing out on the fun, socializing, etc., then they should not have accepted the invitation, but made room for an alternative invited speaker who would have been willing to show up in person. Since they cannot usually attend other talks, attending via skype seems to me a cheap way to feed one's ego.

Sorry for the rant.

Helen De Cruz

Yes, I see where you are coming from. I'm hoping this model would lower barriers (for people who cannot travel easily), but I can see now how the model would in fact just make it easier for senior folk to add a line to their CV. One might be able to mitigate this as follows:
(1) Don't just make skyping in something for senior folks, but offer the option to more junior people too
(2) Ask the people who skype in to commit to follow most of the workshop/conference. With videoconferencing technology it is possible for them to sit in at the other talks (from the comfort of their own home). It may be tricky due to time zone differences, though.

we live in the future

I don't think the antiskype "rant" is fair to those who video-conference into workshops/conferences. Many people would prefer to be there in person and would spend the time/effort/money if they could. For example, as a junior researcher on the job market, I recently had to back out of attending a workshop because I got a last-minute interview. I was really bummed, both because I'd looked forward to the workshop and because I had to back out on an organizer I respect very much. However, I was still able to present and attend some talks via Zoom, which was great. It came at a pretty high financial and time cost too, as I ended up booking another night at a hotel and dealing with an 8-hour time difference, just so I could present online the day after my job interview (before traveling back home) and hear some other talks.

Many other people prefer (or need) not to travel because of health issues, commitment to reducing their carbon footprint, lack of child care, or the mere fact that they can't afford (financially or timewise) to be there in person. I also know people who don't feel safe attending certain conferences. In these cases, I think video conferencing presents a viable alternative and should be promoted, despite the unfortunate side effect of not being able to socialize (or socialize in the same way).

a philosopher

The socialization stuff is a cost for speakers who choose to use Skype, and perhaps also for the attendees who now lose the opportunity to socialize with that speaker. But I would worry a little more about those don't make the choose: early career people who use Skype for financial reasons, potential future conferences which are online-only, or traditional conferences with so many people Skyping that only a few people show up.

The loss of social opportunities seems important to me. A presentation looks okay on a CV, but of more value for an early-career person are the in-person networking opportunities. Then there are the philosophers who work at schools not in major urban areas who don't regularly have opportunity to socialize with other philosophers, see old friends, get out to somewhere besides that one pub on the corner, etc. It seems kind of sad to me to think of these opportunities potentially drying up if more and more people and conference organizers make the shift to an online conference format. I don't think online interactions are bad, but I also don't want every aspect of my life to just be some app on my phone or mediated through a camera in my office.


I am not anti-skype/video conference, but I want to share some negative aspects that I experienced recently. Perhaps they are outweighed by the many possible positives.

I attended what was in some sense a "big" event that was partially via Skype. 'Big" in the sense that it was well funded, on a popular topic, well advertised, and at a major research center. Some of the speakers were via Skype and there was an ability for people to join a live discussion board and have their questions answered. This was largely in the name of environmental concerns. The event was physically close to me so I felt fine about attending in person. The technology aspect worked pretty well and there was IT support on hand.

1. The event space was very large, but few people were in the room. This was odd feeling to say the least. The event felt poorly attended even though it was perhaps really well attended online. I felt like this had a deflating effect on the whole thing. It just didn't feel like the big lively event I thought it would be. I'm not sure if the registration page didn't take note of who would be in person and who wouldn't or if perhaps the room was just the very best one for the tech, but it felt disappointingly poorly attended.

2. I was shocked at how much harder I found it to pay attention to a talking head on a screen. Happy to chalk this up to my own idiosyncratic failings, but I'll just register that I very clearly got less out of the remote talks.

3. There definitely was a negative effect on the networking. Half the speakers who are the super experts on the topic weren't around for follow ups or socialising. I usually like to social things at an event and on this occasion it again felt disappointing.

For the time being I don't think I'll bother going to events that are in the 50/50 range of online and in person. Maybe I'll try being online next time (I suspect this will be my point 2 on steroids for me). I do think we should take very seriously the various costs that come from traveling all over the place for a short talk and a day or two at a conference, but many of the things that make me a conference/workshop enthusiast were lost at this event. I think for the time being I'm more inclined to being selective and mindful about which events I travel to, how I get there (plane, train, etc), and who I invite to events.

a philosopher

I agree with al's point 2. I recently participated in an online seminar series with bimonthly web presentations. During the first 3-4 I studiously paid attention to the video stream on my screen, properly read the paper before hand, etc ... but by the 5th or 6th one I was half paying attention while cooking breakfast or scrolling through facebook. If I had to sit through a whole workshop via the web, I doubt I'd really be engaged.

I also wonder how much of this is a function of the number of conferences visited. I really don't know: how many flights can I take a year before I should start worrying about my carbon impact? Is it a waste to fly to give a short talk at a few-day conference 1-2 times a year? I certainly know people who fly a dozen-plus times a year to give talks. That seems, to me, more of a real environmental concern, but perhaps it's just as bad to do a few a year.

Helen De Cruz

A philosopher:
I have no idea about what is acceptable. It strikes me that we have no good norms about what we should personally do, and it can't just be up to individual people. Just to give an example: now I live in St Louis my carbon footprint has expanded dramatically. My house is not built to withstand heat and has airconditioning. The windows don't even open properly. It would be possible to build housing with thick walls, small windows, good natural ventilation etc. and to reduce the need for airconditioning. There is no good public transport here, so that's also increasing my footprint. It would be totally possible for the metro link to be expanded here but lots of factions etc. resist that. I just say these things to illustrate that individual virtue will only bring us so far. What needs to change are structures, hence my thinking about how we can change norms/ways to interact.
I know people who fly a dozen times or more per year to conferences. I also had a colleague (extinction rebellion proponent) who said transatlantic flights are never justified. I know people who have cut down their flying to a few times a year. Since any flight, long or short, is going to have a negative impact and you can't entirely offset with carbon compensation measures (also these cost and would thus impact junior people), it is unclear to me what a sustainable norm would look like, particularly as we live in a world with little concern for implementing sustainable norms and measures in lots of areas of life (e.g., transportation)


Live conferences and video conferences have fundamental problem: they are projecting the complexity of the human mind and thinking into a one-dimensional time line. Only one person can speak at a time. The effect is that we are constantly cutting each other off and we are losing important perspectives and thoughts. Emerging technologies can avoid this.


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