It’s a grey morning in Manhattan, and I’m sitting in my still half-empty apartment, trying to process the whirlwind of the last two days at the Personal Democracy Forum’s 2012 Conference, “The Internet’s New Political Power”.
I gained almost 100 followers in the course of the two days. About every twenty seconds, I would receive a new @ mention, RT, or follower alert. (This might not be a big deal for some, but it was unprecedented for me.) This was in line with the bigger picture - #pdf12 became a trending topic in NYC and, some say, nationwide. By the end of the conference, I was toggling constantly between following the #pdf12 Twitter stream, checking my new @eileenguo interactions, taking notes by hand, and, of course, listening to the speakers.
As an anthropologist at heart, I’m really interested in the layer below those numbers. What does all of this mean for human connection? For event planning? For our attention spans? For what we learn and take away?
These are topics that I’m eager to continue exploring.
But this time, at least, it means that I learned not only about internet privacy, security, and awesome new initiatives (such as this one by MTV), I also learned which quotes would garner the most retweets and which tweets would provoke the most discussion.
It means that I partook in an amazing global conversation about everything from Lady Gaga to the Dept of Homeland Security with conference participants in the room as well as livestream watchers in 51 (@mitgc_cm correct me if I’m wrong) different countries.
It means that though I walked into the conference thinking that I didn’t know anyone, I soon found out via my Twitter feed that this was not the case. I found and tweeted up with several members of the StartingBloc tribe and had online – and offline – conversations with some of my favorite bloggers.
PDF12 was truly participatory in that sense, and Twitter helped make it so. Conferences are no longer made up of speakers behind a podium pitching to a bored audience, but an engaged public (the internet public we spoke of) commenting, questioning, and (often successfully) demanding real-time responses.
And so I left the conference inspired and exhilarated and much wiser, for sure, but also wondering, was that it? And if so, what’s next?
The constant conversation on Twitter has all but stopped, and despite the Twitter dialogue, overall the event left me feeling a little alienated. During several sessions, I sat next to people who were clearly just as active as I was online, but had no interest in conversing – live, in person – after shutting their laptops at sessions’ end.
And I guess I can kind of empathize.
After all, what single, spoken conversation can possibly replace the hum of hundreds of simultaneous tweets from worlds away?