3 minute read

I wish I could say things were on an upswing. Here’s the good news: the panels I attended yesterday were, by and large, quite good; the two keynotes thus far (Ted Nelson and Sara Kiesler) were worthwhile; the shower had hot water this morning at 6 am. And I’ve had a lovely time meeting and lunching (and dining) with jill/txt and Alex Halavais and Mathemagenic, about which meetings I’ll post more later.

But there’s ranting to be done, and so on to it:

First off, shades of Michael Berube (see here, too): a commenter at a panel yesterday morning began her response to the presenters by saying that she had questions for everyone, “so stop me if I go on too long.” The questions, it turns out, were entirely declarative, with nary an interrogation point among them. But my favorite moment was the following:

“The immediate analogy that came to mind was [sub-field x]. Which I work on.”

The commenter in question has clearly been in the profession for some number of years; how has she not managed in that time to become self-reflexive about such a comment? Of course that was the immediate analogy that came to mind — precisely because that’s what you work on. But is that analogy of any use whatsoever to the person who works on not what you work on, but what they work on?

And then there was my panel this morning. Quite frankly, whoever put this panel together was on crack. Which is not to say that the papers weren’t good; the two papers other than mine were interesting, I think. I think. I can’t entirely be sure, because the two other papers were delivered by a hard-core economist and a hard-core quantitative informatics guy, respectively. How on earth did my proposal for a super-crunchy cultural-studies derived reading of Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon sound like it would work well with papers on internet hyperlinks as indicators for studying global trading flows and the determinants of international internet structure?

So there’s problem number one. But that’s minor in comparison to the actual progress of the panel. Really, I like the multi-disciplinary thing, more often than not, and I was willing to be the comic relief aspect of the panel — I even trotted out the Monty Python “and now for something completely different” as I began. But here’s the main thing that’s really stuck in my craw:

Each panel is allotted an hour and a half. Our panel was supposed to have four papers on it, so each paper was limited to 15 minutes, with half an hour for discussion after. That’s how it ought to have gone, at least. But here’s how it went, instead —

8.30-8.40: We wait for the first guy listed on our program, who does not show, and from whom we’ve had no indication of not-showing.

8.40-9.15: The second/first panelist, the economist, presents. The guy who appears to be chairing the session does nothing to inform her of the passage of time.

9.15-9.20: The guy who I thought was chairing turns out not to be chairing at all, because the second/first presenter now takes questions. After already running 20 minutes over time.

9.20-9.45: The third/second panelist, who I had thought was chairing, presents, speeding through an inch-thick stack of overheads.

9.45: I stand immediately upon his announcing that he’s done, and say that in the interests of time we need to hold off on questions until after the last presenter, i.e., me. The third/second panelist gives me an extremely miffed look and says “I went as fast as I could.”

9.45-10.00: I speed-read through a paper that, admittedly, ought to have taken closer to 20 minutes. Okay, so I’m guilty, too. But when push came to shove, I did get it in, on time.

These are the kinds of days that make all too clear why I hate this profession. Now, I need an afternoon to remind me why I love it.

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