A world in isolation, or a world networked?
While waiting in Newark airport for my flight back to Europe, I got into conversation with two academics from Europe (one from Germany, the other from England) who had both attended a conference in New York. It was part of a regular series of conferences in their subject area, and they usually take place in the United States. Until about five years ago roughly a third of those attending would be from outside America.
This year, they told me, the non-US attendance was less than 10 per cent, and they themselves were unlikely to come again. This, they explained, was not because the conference had no value, but because it was becoming unaffordable, because they were under pressure not to increase their carbon footprint, and because informal access to people was now so easy online that a physical presence at a conference was seen by some of those holding travel budgets to be superfluous.
Is this a trend we should want to encourage? Is the era of scholarly networking in each other’s presence now at an end? Does it matter, in the new online world?
For myself, I am an enthusiast for the advantages of the internet, but I shall be very disappointed if the concept of the international academic encounter is now a thing of the past. I think something would be lost.