I attended last night's meeting of the Knoxville Social Media Association. It was a presentation by Rusty Coats, VP of EW Scripps on journalism and online culture.
It was a fascinating evening, and I always love dipping my toes back into that world of animated avatars we're more used to conversing with via keyboard online. Some people I've known offline from other walks of life but most I've known online across the computer screen.
It's wonderful to meet folks with similar interests to myself, especially those in wildly different professions. The wide reach of the online world is a common denominator that draws many diverse people together.
I still feel on the outside looking in, for the most part. As I said I was fortunate to know a few people there from other walks of life and previous Tweetups, but there were probably many I'd conversed with via Twitter, Facebook or here at the Inn that I just didn't recognize. As I just posted on Twitter, it would be nice to have a GPS locator app on my phone that identified everyone and their relative locations in the room :)
I did have a couple of observations about the evening itself. One was that the back of the crowd was a bit rowdy, which made it difficult to hear the speaker. Chalk that one up to lack of perfect acoustics, my own hearing and a little over-exuberance with the alcohol of the evening :)
The other point was more endemic to the very Twitter-culture we were there to recognize and celebrate. Many, many times during the course of Randy's presentation I glanced around the patio area and noticed more than one head bent down over their iPhone/Blackberry/Verizon, Twittering or texting away. Or reading the http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23knoxsocialmedia feed. Following the undercurrent of conversation that was going on at the same time as the speaker. There was some potent commentary, some snark, some retweets, some invites, and other conversation. It never evolved into a MST3K-like backtalk, but it was there nonetheless.
But I couldn't help but wonder at what Rusty might have been thinking, to look out in the crowd at any given moment and see half of them bent over their phones - ostensibly not listening. What, in any other cultural gathering, would be a pretty blatant display of rudeness. It's one thing to lean over and whisper a comment to your neighbor (My one comment of the evening to Mike Cohen - when Rusty mentioned something to the effect that we held the future of journalism in our hands, meaning our cell phones, I leaned over to Mike sitting next to me and said "Our glasses?") but its another to spend half the time splitting attention between our phones and the speaker.
I'm certain nobody meant anything disrespectful, and again this is the one sub-culture where such a thing is usually forgiven if not expected. But we should probably remember that some speakers may not be used to it, and respond better when they see eyeballs watching them and not the tops of heads.
Especially mine, with my pesky balding spot.
It's interesting when a new societal norm clashes with an old one.