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Imagine yourself at the Annual Meeting, where having lingered a little too long catching up with a colleague you haven’t seen for years, you are now trying simultaneously to rush down a corridor, dig in your Annual Meeting bag for the pocket program, and flip through pages for the location of your next session.
Or imagine yourself arriving at a plenary session, only to find that you can’t quite make out all the words of the prominent sociologist whose presentation you’ve been looking forward to for months.
Now imagine some alternative scenarios.
You are finishing up that same lingering conversation with a colleague, but this time you pull out your smart phone, open the ASA Annual Meeting mobile app, click on the meeting date, and quickly and easily see where you need to go next. When you find that you are missing parts of the plenary address because you can’t quite hear the speaker, you open the same mobile app on your smart phone, tablet, or laptop and bring up the live streaming version of the presentation, with simultaneous captioning so you can read every word.
These alternative scenarios will all be realities for ASA Annual Meeting attendees—starting in Denver—where we are using the power of technology to improve participants’ meeting experiences, increase the efficiency and effectiveness of information sharing, and facilitate networking in both physical and virtual spaces.
The ASA Annual Meeting mobile app will include the full pocket program, information on getting around Denver and the meeting sites, maps and floor plans for the facilities, easy access to information on local restaurants, and hours and locations for various Annual Meeting services. It will be continuously updated with program corrections and changes to reduce the extremely rare but highly frustrating experience of going to a room only to find that there is an error in the program or the session was cancelled. This will be available through a QR code provided at a later date.
After the Annual Meeting is over, the streaming video and transcripts of the plenary sessions will be placed in the online ASA video archive. This archive already exists, and includes open-access videos of ASA plenary sessions dating back to 2002, providing a tremendous scientific and pedagogical resource for sociologists across the globe. To access the archive, go to videoarchive.asanet.org.
Technology will be integrated into the Annual Meeting experience in Denver in three additional ways beyond the mobile app and streaming video with captions. First, free basic bandwidth Wi-Fi will be available in all ASA meeting rooms and public spaces both in the Denver Convention Center and the Hyatt. (For those of you considering incorporating videos in your presentations, keep in mind that basic bandwidth is sufficient to allow web browsing and email, but won’t support rapid transfer of the large amount of data necessary for smooth video playback.)
Second, on April 30 a dedicated “Real Utopias” portion of the ASA website will launch, where you will be able to download and read the Real Utopias proposals that are the focus of a series of Presidential sessions at the Annual Meeting on topics such as “Equality,” “Democracy,” and “Sustainability.” While briefly outlining what is wrong with existing structures and institutions, the proposals focus primary attention on the central contours of meaningful alternatives. The Real Utopias website will be fully interactive, allowing you to participate in a pre-meeting conversation on the proposals by posting your own comments and questions and reading those of other sociologists. In this way, the actual featured sessions at the Annual Meeting can become multi-directional dialogues instead of one-way information transfers between active presenters and a largely passive audience. In addition, there is no need to print out the Real Utopias proposals and carry the papers to Denver. The ASA Annual Meeting mobile app will be linked to the Real Utopias website so you can easily bring up the PDFs and all the associated comments onsite. The website, still in construction, will be www.realutopias.com.
As Berger and Luckmann helped us understand decades ago, reality is socially constructed. So while technological innovations may be real utopias for some of our members, for those of us who were not born with a mobile device in our hands, they may be a bit daunting. This has lead ASA’s skilled and personable web master, Michelle Dupray, to develop a third technology-related innovation for the Annual Meeting in Denver: informal, 20-minute technology training modules she’ll offer to those who stop by “The Hub.” These mini-training opportunities will cover an array of popular topics, such as using social networking tools (e.g., Twitter and Facebook), seeing how educators and non-profits are using Google maps, and making your personal website 508 compliant in order to increase its accessibility. But what’s “The Hub”? All the mini-training modules will be located in “The Hub”—a new ASA social networking space in the ASA Exhibit Hall in Denver that will include the ASA bookstore, cyber café, and dedicated tech-training stations—more information on The Hub will be found in the May/June issue of Footnotes.
We are excited by these new communications innovations at the Annual Meeting. Any real utopia must respond to the divergent needs of many social groups. For those of you who are excited to explore these new technologies, you’ll find the mini-training schedule—you guessed it—on the ASA Annual Meeting mobile app. And for those of you who like the solid feel of paper, the standard information will be available for everyone—you guessed it—in the full Annual Meeting Program, and Pocket Program tucked into your bag at registration.
Sounds utopian and its real.
Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.