Conference Time

Time for reflection or more of the same?

November 16, 2014

I'm writing this reflection on the train home from the airport, having just completed four days of conferencing at the National Women's Studies Association's Annual Conference.

As I mentioned in my initial post on the conference, the schedule was packed, which is certainty not unusual for a conference of this type. Rushing from this panel to that keynote, this meeting to that working lunch, I began to wonder when exactly I would have the time to reflect on my participation enough to get some coherent thoughts out online. (Since you're reading this after the conference has closed, I think you know the answer here.)

These concerns got me thinking about larger, ongoing discussions about time in academia, and in contemporary culture more broadly, and specifically on the "disease of being busy."

This topic was  mentioned in our most recent #femlead discussion on Twitter. In a day packed full of meetings, email, and yet more meetings, chat participants wondered, where is the time for reflection, time to let ideas meander and take shape? Where is the time, as Mimi Nguyen asks, to be "wholly unproductive"?

This also ties in - here we go! - to discussions taking place at #NWSA2014. For example, in a roundtable discussion amongst Feministing.com's leadership that I moderated, concerns were raised about the "fastness" of online culture in compared to the "slowness" of academe. Those of you who know my work here at University of Venus know that I am a huge fan of public intellectual work. However, I am also skeptical of the ways that some discussions play out online, especially on venues like Twitter and publications which use algorithms to determine content based on ability to "break the internet," rather than the strength of the content itself.  In other words, while I definitely see the benefits of the fast pace of working online, I also see the benefits of the "slow knowledge" of the academy. As Janet Jakobsen recently noted: "By taking one’s time, one can resist both producing too quickly in order to meet the professional managerial imperative to be always “busy, busy, busy,” and also too quickly consuming knowledge that would be better understood were there time to digest it."

Though it is true that conferences (especially when they are in picturesque locations like San Juan!), can offer pockets of slowness and opportunities for less productivity, I don't want to suggest that they can - or should be - unproductive. It is always refreshing to hear new ideas, and grounding to connect with colleagues and old friends. But I don't feel that I had sufficient time to reflect - to let my thoughts fully percolate - after the last whirlwind few days.

I hope that this has given some food for thought, and that you bear with me as I try to digest enough to get my thoughts out onto the page.  In the meantime, tell me: how do you experience conference time?


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