18 April 2022

Okay, let's talk about CHI again. Yes really

I’m not attending CHI in person this year. I had arguments with people about it in 2020 before CHI got canceled as the pandemic’s seriousness became more apparent, and I expect to get dragged a bit by the same people for being annoying or a “killjoy” or something all over again. One difference between then and now is that I’ve read more of Sara Ahmed’s work, so I’ve gained an appreciation for being called a “killjoy”. Another difference is that I’m happy to outline some of the things that I’m thinking about when I think about attending an event in person. So I’ll write them out here, and if it’s at all helpful to point to this, then please do.

Why is this necessary?

I’m writing this for a few reasons, but maybe top among them is that I’m frustrated with how conferences are run and frustrated with some of the stupid stuff we did at in-person conferences. That stupid stuff accomplished very little in the first place, and now that there’s a much more present risk in the air (literally), some of these indulgences seem egregious and unreasonable.

Another reason is that I get the impression that the mode of conferences is going to change again soon, and the window to push for meaningful structural changes is closing quickly. If we can make sure some values are baked into the structure of how events are organized by making them part of every conversation about whether to go to an event, I think that’ll have a marked effect on what we can all safely expect from events.

What are the issues?

Okay. My issues are these:

  1. Travel factors
  2. City factors
  3. Venue factors
  4. Community factors
  5. Individual factors

Let’s go through them

Travel factors

Can I travel to the venue reasonably safely?

Airlines recently dropped their mask mandates - in some cases mid-flight. That’s obviously not okay. But there are lots of other modes of transportation, and I’m trying to think along the same lines with all of them, depending on where I’m trying to get.

What the threshold is for “reasonably safely” is ambiguous right now and it’s probably circumstantial. How far is the travel? What’s the mode of travel (or what modes are available)? What will I be doing at the event (if anything)?

I’m not offering a hard and fast rule for any of this - I’m just outlining that I’m considering how risky the mode of travel is, and whether the best option I have is a tolerable risk. Right now (with airlines dropping masking requirements abruptly) flying is profoundly dangerous, and I can’t justify such exposure for any reason that I can fathom right now.

This isn’t exactly the responsibility of event organizers, but it kind of also is. How easily attendees can reach the city hosting the event is part of the conversation in selecting a venue among many options all over the world. If you’re an organizer and you neglect to consider this, you’re rolling the dice with whether people will be able to attend.

You’d look stupid if the only way to reach a venue was via a 3-day journey by catamaran. Don’t look stupid asking me to get on a plane full of unmasked attendees

City factors

Venue factors

Community factors

Individual factors

If you have something to say about this, contact me