Pre-conference advertisements and brochures are designed to tell the story of a conference before it occurs. At best these fulfill the function of a rough draft of the story. The scheduled events and presenters and conference site serve to make the impo rtant elements of the story but the narrative cannot be written until the conference evolves, story element by story element.
This review is the final story of the Diversity University Fall Conference III. Whereas the rough draft listed some of the characters, events and places associated with the story, this final version will describe the spirit of the conference. A spirit which arose from the personalities of the characters, the events the characters participated in and the places where these events occurred on October 24-27, 1996.
The characters of this story bore a striking resemblance to that generic character set (the suspects) of many mysteries. Individuals from all over the globe and from various vocations gathered together for a specific purpose. Ranging in age from 13 (Katie-Mac) to "older" (the rest of the characters), each was tied to the others by a common thread, Diversity University. Just like the generic mystery characters, some knew each other well, some were mere acquaintances, and others met for the first time.
West Virginia Northern Community College, in Wheeling, West Virginia, became the interactive environment for these characters. Accustomed to interacting with one another at DU from their respective remote locations, old friends and new friends came together to work, learn, and play.
|Van*Faussien||3 seconds||Lab, third table|
|Adele||7 seconds||Lab, third table|
|Sky||1 minute||Lab, second table|
|Ringer||5 seconds||Dining Room|
|Danford||9 seconds||Lab, third table|
|Knekkebjoern||2 minutes||Lab, second table|
|Jeanne||2 seconds||Lab, second table|
|EricM||1 minute||Dining Room|
|Richelieu||55 seconds||Dining Room|
|SallyF||4 seconds||Lab, second table|
At any given time during the conference, an @who illustrated that behavior patterns at physical meetings mirrored behavior patterns at DU. Individuals tended to gather in small groups. Subsequent @who's would reveal that the groups might change their lo cation or their specific membership, but their numbers remained relatively constant.
Small groups tended to gather in a variety of locations at the conference site but the computer labs were by far the most popular gathering place. Entering any of the labs produced an eerie sense of walking into a room in which people were communicating in some secret code. Verbal interactions were telegraphic, making it difficult to follow conversational thread. Only when the conversational thread was integrated with the virtual threads emanating from several MOO's could the conversation be decipherd. Clearly, the experience of the physical conference was not confined to those gathered in Wheeling. Characters on the MOOs were hungry for physical descriptions and personal perceptions of those who were in Wheeling. People who were not at the conference, recognizing the uniqueness of the experience, vowed to attend the next conference.
The conference schedule provided opportunities for both formal and informal interactions. Formal activities included the conference workshops, presentations and a meeting of the DU Board of Trustees. Informal activities included extended discussions after formal presentations, a group lunch in downtown Wheeling and the annual meal at a restaurant on Wheeling's very own island.
Throughout the weekend, as new relationships developed and old relationships strengthened, it was clear that the concept of community had obtained a new meaning for those attending the conference. In the beginning, the interactions resembled those of the suspect group in a mystery story, tentative, hesitant, and awkward. By the end, a new spirit was present.
Despite the fact that these conferences are generally attended by some of the virtual community's strongest supporters, these individuals would most likely be the first to admit that life cannot be lived completely in the virtual realm. Certain activities can only be accomplished with a physical meeting. In what seemed as much of a closing ceremony to a conference as it was a Girl Scout ritual, the last day of the conference found several people hovering around a bonfire in the parking lot of the academic building which had housed most of the conference. Around the bonfire was Ringer, Cynthia, Van*Faussien, Steve_S, SallyF, Knekkebjoern, Richelieu, Katie-Mac, Sky and Jeanne. As the bonfire burned, Girl Scout songs were sung, Richelieu danced around the fire, and tears were found in more than one eye.