This series of posts has largely celebrated the tweeting of this year’s Australian Historical Association Conference. Overall we did well at sharing the news of the conference online. But while we should celebrate our achievements, we should at the same time keep a sense of proportion on all this. Twitter is not everything and neither is social media. The vast majority of conference attendees did not send a tweet and are probably not on Twitter at all. However, as I wrote in my last post, historians who are not on Twitter also benefit from tweeting.
But for at least one attendee, the use of computers during conference sessions detracted from their conference experience. After the conference they shared their less than ideal experience with me. They noted that I had referred to “soft tapping of numerous keyboards” from people tweeting at the Global Digital Humanities Conference in an earlier post. This historian said that in their view the sounds of people typing was not ‘soft’ but so loud that they found it quite distracting. They said that they didn’t feel comfortable raising this during the comfortable as they didn’t want to upset people or cause the issue to mushroom into a controversy.
I sympathise with this person. My hearing is like that experienced by people who use hearing aids. I have an auditory processing problem which makes it very difficult for me to filter out extraneous noises. When I was in university lectures I had to sit at the front in those classes with people who typed during the lectures as the sound of the typing made it very difficult for me to hear the lecturer.
It seems that I have improved my ability to filter out the sound of typing since then (possibly aided by quieter keyboards) but at the Australian Historical Association conference I made sure that I sat at the back or at the side of rooms so that I would not disturb others. Aside from the sound, I find it distracting when I can see someone’s screen.
It is not only people who are tweeting that use a keyboard during a conference. People also use a keyboard to take personal notes. Touch screens should result in quiet typing but I find that the clack of finger nails on touch screens very annoying. Would it be practical to ask people who are typing to sit at the back of venues to minimise the distraction to other attendees?
The related issue is the fact that the person with a legitimate problem did not feel that they had a means to discuss the issue with the conference organisers who may have been able to ask those typing to move to the back of venues. The person who raised this issue did not want a big fuss made about this, but I am sure that conference organisers could make available a discrete channel of communication at a conference to deal with issues like this. Perhaps there could be an ‘ideas/comments’ box at the registration table which attendees could be encouraged to use to communicate congratulations, suggestions and problems?
What do you think about this issue and these ideas? Please share your comments below.