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conference clicks

July 1, 2006 by Saar Drimer

Last week I attended most of the WEIS and PET sessions. The topic is a bit removed from my interests but it was good to hear what is out there and chat with all the interesting people. The most valuable thing I learned, however, was that I am happy where I’m at, as far as research interests goes.

I have a Dell Inspiron 9300 laptop, better described as a “desktop replacement.” It’s a great computer, but not for hauling around. I don’t take it to conferences or workshops; some of it has to do with the weight of the thing, but mostly, I believe that if I am somewhere, I should be fully there and give my undivided attention to the person on the podium–they deserve it.

As an experiment, I tried to phase out the speaker’s voice and listen to what I’ll call “conference clicks,” it’s quite astounding, you should try it. Looking around, I see that many people stare at their screens, meaning that they are not fully there; I can only imagine how the speaker feels (I have not spoken in front of this large crowed before.) I’d feel quite insulted, to be honest; I’d rather people not be there at all than not being fully there.

My solution? Cut the WiFi during sessions and have cabled ports outside the hall for people who choose not to attend the lecture. This may sound outrageous to some, but I think this is where we are headed.

To tie in one of my other rants, I’d ban laptops from business meetings too. When I am king/CEO, that will be corporate policy and I think this will become more wide spread soon as well.

Say no to “conference clicks”!


  1. SF says:

    I am a big supporter of Laptops in the conf. room. Here are just three reasons why I might use a laptop during a talk.

    a. The speaker uses a term repeatedly during his/her lecture without explaining it. I check the web for that term so I can follow the rest of the talk.

    b. The speaker gives wrong information during his talk. If I only had a penny for each time a speaker says something like“2+2=5” (I would be still poor). Since I do not trust my memory, I quickly check the web, and tell the speaker in the Q&A time,” Paper [5] has proven that 2+2=4” and ask the speaker to explain if he/she is wrong, [5] is wrong (or has he/she has ever seen that paper), or I get the whole problem wrong. Also, besides giving hard time to the authors, I might be able to help them by referring them to some related work.

    c. Boring talks! It is absolutely the responsibility of the speaker to encourage the audience to listen to his/her talk. Trust me, if a talk is interesting people would listen (hey you do not pay 500$ to check your emails in the conf. room). In many of the talks that I have attended, it was evident the speaker
    I. does not know what he is talking about,
    II. reports the material that has been known for many years, to everyone but the author.
    III. has spent not more than 10 minutes on preparing his/her talk so no one can understand what he is talking about. Yes, the respect must be earned. If the author does not respect me with preparing the best presentation that he/she is able of, I do not have to show respect to him/her either.

    Finally, to answer the question why I do not leave the talk that I do not enjoy, I say, usually there are 4-5 talks in each session of a scientific conference. It is very hard for me to leave during a talk and come back for the next talk, and then again leave in the middle of another talk…( Specially if my seat is located in the middle of a row). I bet leaving the talk is way more insulting than not looking a the speaker.

  2. Saar Drimer says:

    Of course, I disagree.

    a. You can use the old fashion and deprecated way – ASK! If you don’t know, then I bet many others will appreciate the disruption. Or, if you are too shy, write it down and look it up during the break.
    b. Write it down, and check after the talk. There is no urgency, unless you want to embarrass the speaker in front of everyone and have an ego boost (OK, that’s not always why we do it, but some people seem to enjoy it more than others.)
    c. Hey, that’s what you chose to be part of! If more speakers knew people actually listen, I bet they would make more of an effort to make it interesting. Some topics are hopeless, though. If I, II, III is true, then talk to the program committee, obviously something went wrong there. Maybe boring talks should be booed off stage? Maybe people should be given score cards and if the avarage falls under a certain number the talk ends?

    I can agree to the physical constraints of leaving; that’s why I always sit in the back and near the aisle. Leaving is fine, IMO.

  3. Yaron says:

    I prefer freedom myself. Let there be laptops. Let there be 802.11. If the audience isn’t paying attention then that is the speaker’s fault. And if people in the audience are being rude by typing loudly then they should be asked to leave. This is no different then people talking in a theater.

  4. Saar Drimer says:

    Theaters? Each seat should have a teleportation beam to the parking lot… if any person crosses a certain noise threshold (my preference is complete silence… but that’s too optimistic) they will be beamed automatically outside. No questions asked. No food allowed either… the sounds of (other people) chewing in my ear literally drives me insane!
    This was the kind version of the system ;)

  5. Nick says:

    I was at WEIS and my first reaction was that the laptop use was impolite.

    But I think it’s part of a wider problem at universities with goals and roles.
    On taught courses (as opposed to research), a university has 2 roles: first imparting knowledge and second examining and awarding diplomas. If you keep the 2 separate, then students who already know the material or find it easier to learn from the book can miss the lectures and just take the exam. But many universities refuse to keep the distinction clear, and this leads to compulsory lectures or seminars and then you begin to wonder who is there for whom.

    Possible solution for WEIS and conferences: network access outside the hall on which you can also receive live video from inside the hall but can’t disturb (or ask questions!)

  6. Saar Drimer says:

    I like your idea! To save on bandwidth and tech blunders… the feed can consist of only audio and slides (displaying the current slide should be no problem)…

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