This week, I write about how I’m going to be working at an upcoming education conference and the very invasive “health & safety” requirements for entrance into the event.
Has it been awhile since you’ve attended an in-person conference or event? Me, too. Despite the relative ease and convenience of online meetings, I miss the energy of a physical gathering, the chance to watch people milling around rather than just observing their disembodied heads floating in a Zoom square.
Do I miss the anxiety of in-person conferences? The awkwardness? The nervous wondering if I’ll say something stupid and will anyone sit next to me in the auditorium and will I feel vulnerable and alone? Mmmm. Not really.
Here’s the thing: Zoom awkwardness is still social awkwardness. It’s just as easy to feel “left out” or out of place in an online meeting…only you can’t sneak out the back or SIT in the back, for that matter, and just watch.
Part of the writing life IS promotion, so sitting in the back either in person or virtually isn’t what you want to do, ideally. But sometimes we just want to dip our toes in the promo pool, right? We want to watch the pros at work. We want to learn by observation before jumping in ourselves.
Sometimes, in virtual meetings, I feel “on” and outgoing. Sometimes I feel awkward and wish the screen would swallow me up. I’ve been known to hit the video button and go dark so I can just listen, but it seems kind of like a weird thing to do if your reason for participation is to get to know people or publicize your book/story/brand.
Anyway, I am going to be working at a publishing company booth at an upcoming higher education conference here in San Diego. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done this sort of thing, and I’m looking forward to it. I anticipate being overwhelmed and exhausted but also energized and excited. Yay! People! In real life!
However, in preparation for this conference, I received notice that I would have to download an app to my phone and upload my vaccination information. No big deal, I thought.
Until I got into it.
I was required to give them my name, phone number, email, photos of both sides of my driver’s license, and a selfie! Yes. Facial recognition plus my vaccination card info and the other details mentioned.
THEN, another notification flew into the email inbox. The conference required a SECOND type of health-screening platform account, again with my scanned vaccination card.
Why both? I have no idea, but it got me thinking about things like privacy, police states, surveillance, and the fact that we are being tracked and observed all the time, wherever we go, whatever we do, whatever we purchase, wherever we post or research. We are so used to this, I can hear you sighing and mumbling, “So what else is new?”
If you’d dropped 1986 me directly into 2022, my old self would not recognize the world we are living in. I grew up in an analog world on the cusp of the computer revolution. But even with personal computers becoming common in the 90s, I don’t think most of us could have forseen data mining technologies and surveillance to this degree. Would we have signed on for this if it hadn’t happened so gradually? Are we the frogs slowly being warmed to boiling in a pot?
This is the world we live in. It’s crazy times in so many ways. I still believe we can have a good life even in the midst of all this, and participation in the surveillance state is probably inevitable for anyone who wants to work and create in public. The public square is the computer/phone screen now. We have to take it as it comes, find ways to be human and private, enjoy the analog world when we can, and make the most of the technology when we have no other choice.
Or at least tolerate it.
This is one of those times. I’ll be talking higher education publishing at the end of the week, flashing my health creds from my phone, all plugged in to the Borg-like network of our current society.
Maybe in between selling books for my publisher, I’ll have time for some regular conversations. Maybe I’ll even mention my upcoming 2023 publication, a mystery novel set in a college with an aging professor as a prime suspect.
I think should bring some business cards along. Just in case I’m ready to take the plunge.
At a University of Maine at Farmington event a few years ago. I’m in the center between two of my college besties, Mary Ann and Sandy.