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Why Face to Face Still Matters

Graphic_173425039_Gears_PeopleThe following was written by NCTE member Cindy Minnich and originally published in July on the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project Blog.  Cindy teaches English at Upper Dauphin Area High School in Elizabethville, Pennsylvania.

It’s bright and early on the morning after two days of learning with friends and colleagues and rock star authors at nErDcamp MI in Parma, Michigan.

I’m packing and looking at a really long drive home.

I’m not complaining. It was worth every single mile I put on the odometer.

I guess I could have enjoyed this conference from afar. I mean, there’s a hashtag for this conference (and most of them these days) so I could have just armchaired it from home via Twitter and Google Docs and Facebook and Instagram and (later) blog post reflections about what they learned there.

I could, in theory, save myself a ton of time and effort and money by doing this for other conferences as well thanks to technology.

Yet this is my third year of coming to this conference. I have yet to miss an NCTE since my first one in Philly in 2009. I attend PCTELA and ALAN conferences. I have gone to book festivals and librarian conferences. I choose to be active in my NWP site. I try to take advantage of all of the face-to-face learning opportunities I can have, even at the expense of time, effort, and money.

I do it because it’s worth it.

I have certainly used technology to full advantage by living vicariously through the digital stream of posts about conferences that I cannot attend, but those tweets and posts are far from the complete experience. They are someone’s notes, the most important bits that they want to be able to hold on to later. They are the souvenirs that help the people in attendance recall the whole.

The whole is what is missing. And if you’ve been to a conference, you know that so much more happens than just the sessions. You have serendipitous meetings in the lobby. Conversations over coffee and meals. New friends found sitting next to you in sessions. Plotting and planning and scheming for projects and proposals. There’s a buzz and energy at a conference that you just want to be a part of – so we often run for long hours, not wanting to miss a single opportunity.

Kristin Ziemke introduced me to the term for this: FOMO.

Fear of missing out.

I know I have had long and fascinating discussions online, but nothing compares to the need to stay up just a little bit longer talking about books or current events or anything with these people you realize are your people. The people who value the same things you value. The people who traveled and invested their time, effort, and money to learn along with you to become better.

To become better. Together.

The reason to keep meeting face to face is because the best learning isn’t distilled into 140 characters – even if technology allows us to stay connected and learning together between conferences. It’s in the being around others, the accidental opportunities, the hugs, the discussions, the invitations – the energy and realization of being part of a bigger community that can recharge our souls and inspire us to do better.