Virtual Conferences: Where Do We Go From Here?

John McCumber

John McCumber

John McCumber is a cybersecurity executive, retired US Air Force officer, and former Cryptologic Fellow of the National Security Agency. In addition to his professional activities, John is a former Professorial Lecturer in Information Security at The George Washington University in Washington, DC and is currently a technical editor and columnist for Security Technology Executive magazine. John is the author of the textbook Assessing and Managing Security Risk in IT Systems: a Structured Methodology

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon
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    says:

    Covit 19 will end up being a tidal wave impacting the economy in ways we do not even comprehend yet. Just now people are realizing that if they can work virtually, they really don’t need to be near their employer. No need to be in costly cities like Frisco, NYC, DC, etc. They can work in a cheaper place, where the cost of land and taxes is much much less. That’s just the start.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Damon
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      says:

      Look at the coming arguments over whether the internal migration will count as “White Flight” or not.

      Additionally, I’m wondering what it will do to voting patterns. One of the reasons that Texas’s future is Purple is that a whole bunch of people moved from California to Texas without remembering why they moved.

      It wouldn’t take *THAT* many people to move to any number of states to flip them from Red to Blue. And if you aren’t a member of your community after moving there (hey, you’ve still got Reddit, and Twitter, and LinkedIn), why would you bother to find out what the local issues are? Just vote the way that will make the best Instagram post for your followers who moved away from Portland to two states away (you wouldn’t believe how much a house I got on my 3 acres! I have to mow a lawn now! but it’s so humid!).

      It’ll be a boon for the knowledge workers out there.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Damon
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      says:

      Or as others have pointed out, if you can dial in virtually from Memphis, you could just as easily dial in from Mumbai.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        They tried that with tech support centers. A few years later, they were running commercials like this one:

        They’re doing that with code now, to some extent. But they are running into problems with that too. (And GPT-3 strikes me as equal to below-average code that you can get from Mumbai. GPT-4 will take Mumbai off the table.)

        Something’s coming.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Cain
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    says:

    I started doing research on real-time multi-party multi-media communications over internet protocols around 1992-3. Spent considerable effort over the next decade trying to get executives at a couple of the giant telecom/cable companies interested. Like beating my head against a wall. Interesting if a virus can manage to make it happen.

    The “models” I worked to emulate were classrooms, office hours, small working groups, different parts of conferences: what kind of media, what kind of signaling/control protocols were necessary. Because I was working from a “techie” image in my head, one of the things I quickly realized was that none of those could be really good unless there was a smart shared piece of paper. Still waiting for an affordable one of those, although we’re getting closer.

    I did both server- and multicast-based implementations. As far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t a contest — multicast was much easier to build applications on and to do the situation specific signaling protocols. One of the failures of my tech career was that I couldn’t convince any of the internet access providers to turn on multicast, even when their hardware supported it.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    I do not really go to any conferences like this but my fiance has gone to internal and external conferences (largely internal) because of her work. My understanding is that they are largely supposed to be morale boosters/boondoggles for employees especially sales people. My fiance goes to the sales kick offs (though she is sales-adjacent) and describes them as basically three days of some seminars followed by lots of parties to get the salespeople revved up for the year.

    The 1918 pandemic ended with that socially restrained time called the roaring twenties. Obviously the 1920s lacked the internet but it did have its own new means of communications and reach, mainly radio. My prediction for the post-COVID pandemic world was never one of restraint but for another burst of fun and frivolity and this will include bringing back the conferences/parties instead of zoom all the time.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      The reasons that both the 1920’s and 1950’s were idyllic were because our trading partners had a lot of bombed out factories.

      I’m pretty sure that that had more to do with the amount of spending money that people were throwing around than pent-up demand that was finally released.

      (But I say that as someone whose eventual release will look a lot more like “Baby, let’s go to Olive Garden” than something more Gatsbyesque.)Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        I’m talking about social life, not economics. I am pretty sure part of the roaring 20s was that people wanted to forget the pandemic (and WWI) and go out and have a good time. While introverts might like this current situation, I think lots of people are chomping at the bit to get out again including people who take the pandemic seriously.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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          says:

          Recall that the Roaring 20s was very much an urban phenomenon. Most of rural America (in the 1920 census, 49% of the population, with a definition of non-rural chosen to include a lot of quite small places) spent the 1920s going broke, not going out. In rural areas, the Depression started with the farm crisis of 1920.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
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            says:

            and the rural population is even smaller now. I have a resistance to big, bold futuristic predictions because I think people like to make them because predicting things will go back to normal is boring. The situation for the performing arts seems dire now. There will be venues and institutions that close for good because of the pandemic. Same with restaurants/bars.

            But the idea that there will never be going to the theatre, dance, concerts, movies, sports, bars, or restaurants again is rather absurd to me. Something like 70 percent of the human population is extroverted from what I’ve read/heard.

            But COVID has a lot of people predicting “we will be working from home and shut in forever!!! Yay!!!” This feels more like an introvert’s fantasy out loud masked as futurism.Report

            • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Saul Degraw
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              says:

              I’m an introvert and I can’t wait for the pandemic to recede enough for me to be sprung from my (largely self-imposed) isolation. Right now I mainly miss seeing relatives/friends out of town and just plain old in-person shopping. And I used to go to some plays on campus in the before-times, it was a nice perk of being here.

              THAT SAID: academic conferences having a dial in function would be wonderful going forward. People with disabilities who find travel hard, people who are caretakers and also in academic (parents of small kids!), people with heavy teaching schedules (me) and little institutional support so travel costs are on their backs (also me) would benefit from greater ease to “travel” to see and even give talks (I could do it – I taught online all last semester, and if I needed a nicer set up to speak from, our campus’ CIDT has a greenroom).

              I have also been able to “go” to talks for a society a belong to, where all the meetings are on Thursday nights, at places 2 hours from me – I would normally never go because a four hour’s round trip coming back home early Friday morning, and then having an 8 am class is a giant nope. But “going” from my comfy living room with no travel time? Great.

              I WANT to go back out when it’s safe, but I would also like some of the options we’ve developed to stay in place – for reasons of ease, inclusivity, and yes, environmental friendliness – not burning all that gas or jetfuel to get somewhere you might not want to go EXCEPT the conference is there.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw
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          says:

          I think that, to some extent, social life is limited by economics.

          We’ve had a K shaped recovery from the Covid where two out of three folks are going gangbusters and one out of three is going down, down, down.

          It strikes me that social lives are similarly likely to see a K.

          I mean, sure. Now is a great time to buy Disney. The resorts will be hippity hopping this time next year. (Just googled. Right now, Disney is at 177.68/share. BUY BUY BUY! 100 shares will only cost 17,768 plus fees. We’ll come back to this as the year evolves and check how our round lot is doing!)

          But the whole “getting out and meeting people” thing that extroverts do and if they can’t do it they start gaining weight? That’s going to have a K shaped recovery too.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        The reasons that both the 1920’s and 1950’s were idyllic were because our trading partners had a lot of bombed out factories.

        I keep seeing this asserted.

        Is it true? Like, is there a solid consensus among economists that the prosperity of the eras was due to bombed out trading partners?

        The assertion seems to flatly contradict the entire concept of free trade making everyone richer.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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          says:

          In any case, the argument is that the US traded with these other countries selling them stuff to rebuild while building up its own manufacturing base. This did two things:

          1. Absolute goods. Yay factories! Yay jobs!
          2. Positional goods. We’re better off than bombed out England/Germany/France! Yay!

          We also had their most ambitious and best and brightest moving here in droves and that helped nudge us better with both #1 and #2 for a while as well.

          Meanwhile, we kept engaging in Free Trade with everybody.

          It was when we started outsourcing our manufacturing overseas and socializing costs and privatizing profits that we started seeing #2 plummet even as, in pure numbers, #1 went up.

          And the costs got socialized more and more and the profits privatized and the well-off pointed at the GDP and said “BEHOLD! THE LINE GOES UP!”

          The assertion seems to flatly contradict the entire concept of free trade making everyone richer.

          I think the argument is that free trade makes the set of everyone richer and, over time, provides a higher baseline of what is considered poverty.

          If it’s a question of positional goods, free trade reorganizes people to an amazing degree and with a great deal of velocity. But you can’t make everyone better off, positionally. Not even in theory. And, positionally, there will be people quite regularly in worse positions than the ones they were in yesterday, as others move up.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            I’m quite familiar with the argument.

            I just haven’t seen it demonstrated that this is what real economists, as opposed to internet commenters like you and me, think.

            Like, was the post WWII prosperity really driven by international trade with Europe, versus domestic trade?
            I don’t know!

            Were Europeans really buying Chevys, Fords and Buicks as opposed to Healeys, Peugeots, and Mercedes? American appliances instead of European? American agriculture instead of European?

            I don’t know this either!

            And if impoverished Europeans can boost American industry through buying (with what money??) our products, why didn’t impoverished Chinese boost our economy the same way?

            I mean, I distinctly recall that Nixon’s opening to China was envisioned as opening a billion wallets to buy a Big Mac and Coke. What happened to that?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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              says:

              I just haven’t seen it demonstrated that this is what real economists, as opposed to internet commenters like you and me, think.

              Well, given your opinions about scientific studies (demonstrated here ), I’m not surprised that you haven’t seen anything that leads to to any conclusions but the ones you’re inclined to think anyway.

              But I’m not sure it’s possible to overcome your epistemic humility.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                But here’s something from Brookings that discusses the Trends in US exports from 1925 to 1970.

                Lemme know if you don’t read it.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                What did you see that led you to your current position?

                It wasn’t the 61 page dense academic document from the Brookings Institute, right?

                And it couldn’t be just a bunch of guys on Reddit either right?

                I’m not even arguing against the position; I’m asking an honest and sincere question here; Do most mainstream economists hold to this theory? Like if you were to browse some textbooks from most major university Economics departments, would they generally agree with this?

                Because I’ve never seen it anywhere except internet comment boards.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Well, I want to hammer down exactly what you seem to think my current position is.

                If it is, to use a quote from this very thread, “free trade making everyone richer”, I’ll just say that that isn’t my position.

                I *WILL* say that the set that contains everyone is, as a set, richer with than without free trade.

                But that’s not the same thing as saying “everyone is better off”. It’s possible to interpret “everyone is better off” as “every single individual is better off” and that’s obviously not the case.

                But, as a set, the set that contains everyone free trading is better off than if it weren’t.

                I’d also talk about the differences between relative position (the difference between an 80″ television and a 27″ television) and absolute position (owning a television versus not owning a television).

                You know the Heritage Foundations list of percentages of households that have this or that particular thing or luxury? And how people point out that a video game system means nothing because people can buy used ones and how those are one-time purchases and nobody plays the PS3 anymore and soon no one will play the PS4?

                Well that’s arguing relative versus absolute position and I would want to know which we’re focusing on because I don’t want to be arguing America’s relative position due to trade imbalances when you’re talking about how Italians had cars too.

                So, with that all said, I’d say that one of the reasons the US did so much better, relatively, than Europe did was because the US was not bombed and was able to switch its tank factories to car factories while Germany, among others, had to turn its former tank factories from rubble into not rubble and then into car factories and those extra steps (which included machinery that they bought from countries that were up and running) gave positional advantage to the US.

                And I was taught this in Middle and High School (though, I’ll grant, the focus was much more on the boom of the 1950s (which was remembered by my teachers) than the boom of the 1920s (which got a couple of paragraphs which turned into a paragraph discussing “margin calls” which turned into a discussion of the Great Depression) but they pointed out that the population of Europe was spectacularly messed up by WWI and they showed us the death numbers of the various European countries).

                So if you didn’t learn this in school, and you keep seeing people talking about having learned this, your assumption is that they picked it up on the internet rather than whether you might have missed something?

                Like, are you wondering why people see “not being bombed” as being a leg up over “having been bombed until the rubble bounces”?

                Because if you can’t understand why having been bombed might produce setbacks, I may need to explain a handful of other things that take us back further than the 20th Century.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Your understanding of what caused the postwar economic booms is different than what I recall as being taught (lets call it the Conventional History).

                The Conventional History I recall wasn’t about positional advantage;

                It was that the massive New Deal government investment in industrial infrastructure and subsequent easy credit markets for returning GIs produced a domestic market, not so much as an international one.

                My recollection was that it was domestic consumption of consumer goods and housing which led to the job growth, not international sales to bombed out competitors.

                But…again…this is me remembering what I read decades ago.

                So I could be wrong!

                But I would think that current history and economics textbooks and classes would cover this, and have a generally accepted view.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                It was that the massive New Deal government investment in industrial infrastructure and subsequent easy credit markets for returning GIs produced a domestic market, not so much as an international one.

                So the factories that we built as part of the New Deal were part of it, you say?

                Did the fact that these factories built as part of the New Deal were not, in fact, bombed have an impact on their production capacity?

                My recollection was that it was domestic consumption of consumer goods and housing which led to the job growth, not international sales to bombed out competitors.

                True, but when it came to the jobs to build and make those things, we were limited primarily to Domestic Labor and Domestic Production.

                You know the urban legend about Henry Ford paying his workers enough to buy a Model T? Well, this is that only for real.

                It was when the Free Trade Model really started kicking in that Anti-racism Sourcing of jobs started having an effect upon stuff like manufacturing.

                Remember when you could go to the canning factory with a high school diploma and get a job that could support a family that included a stay-at-home spouse?

                What did your history textbooks discuss when it came to why that ended?

                Part of that is due to the whole “we’ve Morality-Shored our manufacturing”.

                But, you know, products are a lot cheaper than they used to be.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Your digression into The Effects Of Free Trade undercuts the original assertion.

                The original assertion: The reasons that both the 1920’s and 1950’s were idyllic were because our trading partners had a lot of bombed out factories. has a lurking “only” in there.

                That is, there is an implication that were it not for Europe being destroyed, the post WWII prosperity wouldn’t have occurred, that the prosperity was driven by our relative advantage in international markets.

                But the European and Asian economies were already robust and vibrant in the 1950s.
                The global economy of the 1950s and 1960s wasn’t a story of a rich America dominating devastated Europe and Asia, but of rising prosperity across the globe.

                How come the retooled and modern factories of Germany and Japan didn’t take our manufacturing in the 1960s? What caused them to wait until the 1970s and 80s?

                If the answer is “revised trade policies and treaties” then it seems that this is the answer, not bombed out factories of the 40s.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                has a lurking “only” in there.

                Chip, I assure you, if I wanted to say “only”, I would have.

                Remember when I made this distinction here?

                If it is, to use a quote from this very thread, “free trade making everyone richer”, I’ll just say that that isn’t my position.

                I *WILL* say that the set that contains everyone is, as a set, richer with than without free trade.

                But that’s not the same thing as saying “everyone is better off”. It’s possible to interpret “everyone is better off” as “every single individual is better off” and that’s obviously not the case.

                Now, I’d be delighted to say that the reasons for phenomenon P are X, and Y, and Z… and, hey, if I overlooked W, W could easily be a factor on top of everything else.

                So let me officially say that there are many things behind America’s boom following WWI ending and the one following WWII ending.

                W, X, Y, *AND* Z.

                And, as such, pointing out that other countries had X is interesting, I guess. But if they didn’t have Y, that’s also relevant. And Z!

                And, on top of that, there are narratives that were understood in the 70’s and 80’s that we understand better in 2020 than we did back then. Or, at least, that have replaced the previous narratives.

                Like “How many planets are in the solar system?” or “How many genders are there?”

                You may have learned a certain number in high school

                It isn’t that number in 2020.

                And, indeed, I learned about the new numbers on the internet.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, so maybe we don’t disagree at all then.

                Could we revise the original assertion to be:

                “The reasons that both the 1920’s and 1950’s were idyllic were such things as domestic economic policies, relative international position, and favorable trade policies”?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels
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                says:

                Sure!

                And now let’s go back and apply that to the end of Covid and the theories about whether there’s a boom coming.

                Have our economic policies changed a whole lot?

                Nope.

                How about our relative international position?

                Compared to? Europe? Not really Russia? Not really.

                China?

                And, of course, favorable trade policies.

                Favorable to?

                And, once we answer all of those questions, we can make guesses about how much the Roaring 2020s will stack up next to the Roaring ’20s.

                For the record, I don’t think that the 2020s are going to roar.

                Saul was, of course, talking about “social life” rather than “economics” but I’m going to argue that they’re somewhat intertwined.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      It would be funny if your fiance and I work for the same SV company…

      This year would have been my 20-somethingth Sales kick-off (usually held in Vegas as we’ve gotten to be that big)… but we’re going to do it over the same 4-day period as a virtual event; which strikes me as a disaster in the making. As your fiance notes, we’re mostly going to seminars (product/solution updates) and key-notes (execs telling their plans for 2021) interspersed with team events and dinners. Plus its in Vegas, so downtime has lots of options. But 4-days in my home office? You’ve got to be kidding me. Glued to a screen for the ultimate – this could have been an email – update… without the benefits of facetime and networking?

      I suppose it is worthwhile to note that Sales orgs were early adopters of Remote work… why have everyone at HQ in SF flying to Atlanta? Why not a satellite in Atlanta where people fly to DC? Why not just hire people in DC that go to Atlanta once a Quarter? And meet with the WW team once a year… in Vegas? Remember, we almost never see our Managers, team members and anyone who’s “sales adjacent” but with whom we interact daily/weekly. It’s pretty valuable to reinforce those connections, and I often used the time to connect with the sales adjacent folks to thank them, and, let’s be honest, get to know them so when I needed my stuff worked on before the other jerk’s stuff? They worked on the jerk they knew.

      So as much as I treated Kick-off as an annual chore… the absence of it seems like a loss. Especially for a group that has loose ties, looser affiliations, and a me-first job.

      I expect an additional dose of friction in an org that is fractious by nature. We’ll see.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Marchmaine
        Ignored
        says:

        I work for a small lawfirm. There are trade group/bar association events I can attend but those are often even bigger excuses to party/network/get CLE credits. Some local groups have been doing virtual events including holiday parties but I saw this as a what’s the point.Report

  4. Avatar Philip H
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    says:

    I’ve been an attendee at three virtual science society meetings this year, and was on the planning committee for one of them. Its a cluster at best, especially when your organization pivots to virtual at the last minute. in terms of content delivery I found them better then most in person science meetings in that I could actually attend papers in competing session as they are all recorded. That meant I really only had to reserve time for the live keynotes and discussion panels, which all ran fairly well. For the meeting I helped plan, I will say that we had better international participation and student participation then we otherwise might have had since there was no travel cost.

    I can’t speak to the perpetual tech issues, and i get the loss of the in person socializing. I hope we maintain some level of virtual participation in future meetings, simply because it means we get more people more broadly involved.Report

    • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Philip H
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      says:

      yeah, I hope this is a future option: no $12 “box lunches” of a stale sandwich and an apple where there isn’t a nearby restaurant, no paying thousands of dollars out of my own pocket (little travel support at my uni) for accommodations and travel, being able to fit it around classes if classes are in session, no having to navigate an unfamiliar city as a woman traveling alone, no wrestling a poster (if you wind up relegated to a poster session) onto public transport….

      Yes I get the loss of in person socializing but some conferences I went to? If you weren’t into drinking a lot or weren’t a Big Famous Somebody, there wasn’t really anyone interested in talking with youReport

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