I arrived in Cairo on Monday afternoon after the 2-day professional ‘lovefest’, otherwise known as ISTEK 2010 in Istanbul. Ever since I arrived at Istanbul airport to board the plane (feeling slightly the worse for wear – but that was largely my fault!) I thought I would blog about the conference.
But then today I thought perhaps I shouldn’t. How could I write a better account than Mark Andrews’ blog about viewing the conference (and blogging about it) from outside, or Sean Banville’s wonderful story of his own ‘twitterfication’ and the conference. Ken Wilson provides some nice context and a picture or two on his blog, to give some background to ISTEK and Turkey.
And yet I think I might have something to add. Why WAS ISTEK such a magical event – and no one who follows any of the participants or tweeters who were ‘there can be in any doubt that it was a magical event? Why was the use of Twitter so crucial to that sense of wonder? Here are my thoughts.
Twitter first: even before ISTEK the thing that had most impressed me about Twitter was the levelling effect of its democracy. What I mean is the lack of hierarchy, ageism or sexism (mostly). On Twitter, anyone who engages, socially, who listens to what people have to say and interacts with them, is equal. A genuinely supportive and warm atmosphere. And mostly – but of course not always – the people I know who tweet are kind and considerate to each other, even when disagreeing slightly. Sure we go through the occasional ‘nasty’ patch (see an earlier blog of mine), but mostly people say nice things to each other. Is that silly? I don’t think so. On the whole it makes the world a better place.
Which is where ISTEK comes in – at least for me. On his blog Sean Blanville talks about how people who ‘knew’ each from twitter greeted each other in their first face-to-face meeting as if they were favourite family members. No defences, no ‘pulling rank’ or any of that stuff, and a rather pronounced lack of competitiveness, it seemed to me.
And so to the conference itself. Yes, it was beautifully organised bu Burcu Akyol who has justly received whole warehouses full of praise. There were two wonderful ‘masters’ of ceremonies, John and Vanessa, whose charming professionalism gave the plenary events a gloss all of their own. There was a Pecha Kucha evening helped immeasurably by the simple expedient of having everyone sit on beanbags to enjoy themselves. And then there were the dancers at the end – a veritable riot of love and energy and precision and sheer exuberance. Everyone felt just a little bit better to be alive.
But it wasn’t ALL perfect! The plenaries (yes I know what I am saying here) were not significantly better or worse than usual. The technology in the rooms was not always as good as it might have been. There were some fearsome glass stairs which claimed at least one victim. There was a falling off of attendance on day 2.
So why, why why is everyone raving about it?
Here are my explanations:
1 Burcu herself. Calm, organised, friendly, charming.
2 A whole gaggle of student helpers, energetic and friendly.
3 Teachers helpers assigned to look after guest speakers
4 a sense of newness and wonder (this was the FIRST ISTEK conference)
and two more things:
5 the sheer welcome of all the Turkish participants – their desire to have a good time, to fully participate in what was going on.
6 TWITTER – which created the most remarkable sense of community, of togetherness, of support. Look at the tweets which were sent during the plenaries (wow! It is some crazy experience to read people’s tweets about your own talk. Instant feedback. Bizarre. Nice). And as Mark Andrews so warmly describes, those tweets linked people inside and outside the conference. They drew the watchers of the livestream into the auditorium; they made the people tweeting OUT of the hall feel they were in touch with all the people they would have liked to have been there. This was, as both Mark and Sean have suggested in their own words, the apotheosis of Twitter; both informative, friendly and loving. For make no mistake, ISTEK was the friendliest, love-iest conference around.
Twitter’s niceness may either be the result of the most extraordinarily nice bunch of people (the PLN there WAS very nice by the way), or perhaps the abdication of critical evaluation. No negative public tweets about any of the talks? That makes the tweet conversation quite unlike any other event.
And to come back to how I started this (long) post, Twitter’s sheer democracy may be its downfall. if everyone’s voice is equal how can anyone decide what to think (please don’t misunderstand me; I am not talking about age or hierarchy here, but about something else). Academic journals are refereed to ensure quality (doesn’t always work). Most other public utterances are subjected to a more rigorous scrutiny. Why not here?
See, I am slightly confused now. I absolutely LOVED that conference in Istanbul. I loved the sense of real brother- and sisterhood. But does it come at the expense of anything else? And even if it doesn’t can it come again?
I’d love your thoughts on this…..