Southern Jaunt #2 — Meeting IRL

I’m on a 2-3 week trip through the South, visiting family, attending a workshop and conference, and enjoying some time away from Indiana. I’m call the excursion my Southern Jaunt. This is my second in a series of posts about my trip.


I’ve been in Atlanta for three days attending the “Doing Sport History in the Digital Present” workshop sponsored by Georgia Tech and the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH). It was a pre-conference workshop. NASSH’s conference is this weekend. It has been a wonderful experience. Everyone has been super welcoming, supportive, and engaged with other people’s work. I’ve had so many great conversations and met a lot of people.

One of the neat things about the workshop, was the pre-review process. Everyone read each other’s papers ahead of time. We also commented on a couple of them in preparation for panel presentations. This not only ensured that everyone was engaged, but also served as an introduction to each other. Thus when we arrived in Atlanta, it was fun to meet the minds and personalities behind the text we’d been reading.

Meeting and workshopping our papers before our panel.

Meeting and workshopping our papers before our panel.

Meeting people in real life (IRL as the kids say) is always fun and interesting. When I’m reading I always have an image and a voice of a person in my mind. Then, when you meet the person, you get to see if you were right. You also pick up more elements of their personality, sense of humor, etc. This was striking to me in a couple of ways because it made me realize that despite long-standing digital connections and online friendships, your conception of someone is still only an idea. Digital friendships and collaborations are un-bodied or disembodied.

I Tweeted this a few days ago upon arriving in Atlanta, but over the course of this week (both the workshop and the conference), I will likely meet at least 50 people I know from blogging, Twitter, email, and other digital mediums for the first time face to face. It’s kind of incredible.

My workshop paper discussed community and blogging, and how it can extend the conference, tear down barriers, and promote the field (and, I might add, individual scholars). As testament to this power, and the power of digital technology, is the fact that until the workshop, I had never met my co-editors IRL. We’d chatted online, video-conferenced, etc. but we’d never met face to face. Upon meeting we acted like friends, we worked well together, and many people assumed we knew each other for a while. I think it was because of our ease in communicating and familiarity with each other’s work/ideas, but also the fact we built something together and trusted each other solely through a digital collaboration/friendship. In some ways that anecdote proves that digital friendships and collaborations can work, and that digital communities are powerful. Despite that, I am glad to have finally met them. I also glad to have been accepted to attend the workshop and the conference. Personal, human, face to face engagement is important.

I’m little embarrassed to admit this, but this will be my first NASSH. I’ve been working in sport history since around 2009, but haven’t made it to the field’s major conference. I don’t really have any excuses, and I have wanted to go, but for one reason or another I haven’t. So I’m thrilled to be here and making IRL connections with scholars I have read, cited, emailed, Tweeted, Facebook’ed, and so on. It’s going to be a fantastic weekend.

Beers and laptops.

Beers and laptops.

Because it is my first NASSH, I’m in a weird but extremely flattering position. There are people who want to meet me. As lowly graduate students we never expect that. Indeed, I met one person already this week who knew who I was from the Sport in American History blog, but didn’t know me. He told me that for someone who is attending NASSH for the first time, I already have a pretty large footprint. I don’t think he was trying to feed my ego, but instead highlighting the success of the blog. For me, the blog has been my conference and my community. It will continue to be those things, but I’m glad to move beyond the digital and become a real person with a face and a personality. The real life connections and conversations in sessions and over beers are important, especially because not everyone embraces the digital. Likewise, those conversations are part of the difference between knowing someone and knowing someone. Digital communities can only go so far.

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