Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gary Vaynerchuk's Keynote at Web 2.0 NYC

Here is a 15 minute keynote address by Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library) from the Web 2.0 Expo NYC that will almost have you quitting your day job to start a llama farm or make that movie you've dreamed of making:

Inspiring stuff, no? Unfortunately, life is complicated, hard, & messy, I wish my priorities were as clear as he presents his. I don't think I'm creating obstacles for myself or phantom walls, just acknowledging that taking the steps he suggests do have initially negative consequences. Unless you are incredibly blessed, our achievements in life come through a lot of hard work and putting aside immediate needs for future payoffs.

So, I guess the questions you need to ask yourself are how do you want to spend the rest of your life, or at least the next year of it? And what are you willing to sacrifice to make that happen?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Scholar for hire...inexpensive but not cheap!

I'm currently unemployed, by choice, in order to hasten the completion of my dissertation but after 8 months I've come to the end of my limited savings and must look for employment. After adjuncting for over six years, I want to avoid that low paid route but after being in higher education for so long, I'm not exactly a hot commodity in the business world.

When I identified myself as an academic at a recent tech conference, I got the pause and half-smile that says, "Isn't that quaint? Do you still read books?"

How to translate writing & research skills to the business world, that is my question to the brave, the few, my blog readers. I've looked at some pay-to-blog jobs which I could do from home but I think the pay is probably minimal. I'm not looking for personal exposure, just a paycheck for a job well done.

The jobs I've loved have all involved teaching & research but I don't have the statistical background to do hard-core website analysis. I'm a qualitative researcher which means I analyze text and interview people. I've worked with delicate issues ranging from sexual abuse to religious experience, to more traditional subject like vocational issues & migration.

This is the ultimate me, me, me column. I'm not really asking for a job, just any suggestions you might have. I think I'm suffering from a lack of imagination on how to translate my job skills to the nonacademic world. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Web 2.0 Expo NYC-orama!

I just went to my first tech conference, Web2.0 Expo NYC (as opposed to those in Berlin or San Francisco) put on by O'Reilly Media. I copied lots of notes, page after page, the old-fashioned way, but mainly noticed the many ways that tech conferences are different from academic conferences*.

I went to my first academic conference in 1990 and probably have attended somewhere between 30 and 40. It's one of the rare times I get to go anywhere, usually to a city I want to see or somewhere I've never been before. In the upcoming year, it's Chicago and SF. About every other year I'll participate by presenting some of my research.

So here are some differences:

Tech: Expensive, anywhere from $1200-3000 dollars. I assume that is deducted as a business expense? Ouch! Includes lunch though!

Academic: Inexpensive for students, between $25-100 dollars (more for on-site registration) and students bitch about having to pay that much. Between $100-300 for senior scholars. No food included.

Tech: Men: Casual, anti-suit atmosphere, jeans & sneakers, even t-shirts & shorts. Women: Whatever you feel like wearing that day.

Academic: Men: Wrinkled suits that they wore while they slept on the plane. Same suit every year. Women: Matched long flowing blouse & long skirt (think professional earth mother).

Tech: A lot of people are continually connected to the internet via their laptops. The most crowded area of the conference was where people could recharge their computers. People were tweeting, checking email during presentation. Use of mobile phones only for texting.

Academic: Mostly one-on-one conversations in conference center hallways and hotel bars. Most people in sessions watch presenters or consult their enormous program books to see what they are going to attend next. Occasionally, you'll see someone on a cell phone outside a meeting room.

Tech: Every presenter talked, no notes, through a powerpoint presentation. Just one presenter or, rarely a panel of people just talking about their jobs or the industry. Fifty minute sessions.

Academic: Four to six people reading papers to a captive audience. Strict moderator watching clock and motioning speakers to wrap things up (everyone goes over their allotted time). Sessions last between 2 and 2 1/2 hours. Sometimes no time for Q&A.

Tech: Lots of keynote talkers, big names in their field but only give between 5 and 30 minutes to talk! That's barely enough time to present one idea...soundbites!

Academic: Just 2 or 3 one-hour plenary sessions by people you should know but never heard of which are preceded by terribly long introductions of the speakers and sometimes award ceremonies. Almost mandatory to attend but usually little more than paying homage to senior scholars.

Tech: A fair number of exhibitors, often wearing color-coordinated clothing. Booth crawl one night featuring free alcohol. Sometimes there are booth girls wearing high heels, short skirts, often blond, who call out to attendees passing by to get their attention. Lots of promotional stuff (swag), games & giveaways to draw your attention to booth.

Academic: Many more exhibitors, book publishers who are indistinguishable from the conference attendees. You can't tell who is there to browse and who is there to sell books. You sometimes need to flag a book rep down to purchase books and everyone is buying books, sometimes hundreds (especially people from outside the U.S.). Nothing is free but there are often discounts for on-site purchases. It's like Christmas only you spend money on yourself.

Tech: A few night time events, hosted but more often cash bar, at a local nightclub or restaurant. People create their own after parties and some events are invitation only. People take lots of pictures of themselves and their friends in crazy poses and post them online.

Academic: Attendees go on a rotation of receptions between 7 and 11 pm hosted by a university or book publisher. Mostly free alcohol so more drinking involved than at tech conference (a surprise, no?). Those left standing at the end of an evening who don't have a 8 am panel scheduled the next morning gather in headquarter hotels for more drinking. There is a huge danger of embarrassing yourself in front of senior scholars. Luckily, no one is ever taking a picture of you.

Tech: Attendees asked to evaluate and "rate" each presenter whose session they attended. Ratings probably determine who gets asked again to present at future conferences.

Academic: Attendees asked about the logistics of the event (food, location, shuttle busses). Lousy presenters usually present every year, no compensation to those who suffered through their presentation on labor disputes among poultry workers. You try to remember the spectacular failures so you can avoid them in the future.

There were commonalities, too, but these are some of the things which stood out to me. Who knows, maybe next year, I'll get a media pass and blog the conference!

I had a really great time, learned a lot, hoped to share some of that in posts in next few weeks if they seem appropriate.

*Edit: I realized that I never defined "academic conference". I mean conferences or annual meetings of professional associations of academics (professors & graduate students), usually held between August and December. The groups focus on a discipline & mostly have three initials containing the letter "A"...AAA, ASA, AHA, AAR, APA, etc.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon

Man, it's been quite a while since I've blogged. I think the last entry was a hard one to follow up on. It's funny how confessional people have become in the last 10 years but I still feel uneasy sharing details about my family online. My interior musings are up for grabs but I'm shy about revealing the messiness of relationships. That act involves discussing & describing other people and I can't help but be biased about them. I never wanted this blog to be a place where I gushed about my latest infatuation or ranted about someone who was annoying. That's just life.

Now while I'm supposed to be finishing up my dissertation revisions, I've found myself immersed in events in the New York City tech scene. I'm kind of fuzzy on how it all started. I was looking at some statistics that said that 3 months ago I had 50 people "following" me on Twitter and today I have 577! I don't even know when the tipping point was that I went from being a casual newbie to a person with so many online connections.

It's been like a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering momentum and growing in size. I bought some domains in the spring which lead me to read some technology blogs and a few personal ones and some of the people who wrote these blogs suggested that I follow them on Twitter. I don't remember who these first people were or if I even still follow them! From there, I started following people I saw posting interesting or clever Tweets, saw who THEY thought was interesting and it just grew from there.

After a month or two, I noticed that some of the people I was following were getting together to meet in person. I asked if it was okay if I showed up, got an enthusiastic thumbs up and showed up to a couple of events. I enjoyed myself and got to meet some very interesting people I would never have otherwise crossed paths with. We worked in different professions, came from different generations, lived in different places but, truthfully, that's what made it so engaging to me.

Since then, the situation has gotten unnecessarily complicated as all human relationships get. People talk about "community" and Twitter events are presented as being open to anyone but the sociological fact is that people are born to form tightly-knit small groups, call them cliques, networks, tribes, or the "inner circle". Unless there is some shared characteristic (ethnicity, religion, nationality, a common interest, gender, etc.), it's unusual for a circle of unrelated people to have equally strong relationships with everyone else in a group.

The bonds between the people I've met in the NYC tech/media/startup world seem, in general, to be at once intense & strong and incredibly superficial & fragile which is typical of status-conscious groups. It's a business environment masquerading as a lifestyle. It reminds me a lot of when I worked in the music industry and I (and everyone else) judged everyone based on who they were listening to. Seriously, I remember thinking that I couldn't be in a romantic relationship with someone who had incompatible musical tastes, everything else was negotiable!

In the tech world, especially in social media, people seem to be judged by several criteria including their "personal brand", their current occupational position, and their knowledge of the industry & of the people in it.

I realize that this is passing judgment on a sector of society that has, by & large, welcomed me and to which I do not belong. But it would be a mistake to see it as a negative judgment. What I'm saying is typical for most social areas of our lives, from school to work to local civic involvement.

The difference is that a lot of users I see merge their professional lives with their personal lives and I think this can be psychologically claustrophobic. There should be some people in your life who don't care where you work or who you know, who accept & love you whether you have a high status or no professional status at all.

I know in the music industry that there was a revolving door on many positions at record companies & radio stations and it was only the most charismatic & talented who could survive being fired and remain in the business for long. There were a lot of casualties. Maybe things are truly different for the 2.0 generation, who all act like entrepreneurs in the making, but I think it is dangerous to attach all of your self-worth and self-identity to a job that you may not have for very long.

Now is where I confess to having done exactly the same thing when I was younger...which is absolutely the case. I didn't care much about balance but when the bottom falls out of your world, you're left with little to stand on but yourself and your closest friends and it helps if you've both been there for each other regardless of your personal fortunes & statuses. These friends are gold!

I see great potential in online social networking for making instant connections between people who were once strangers. I just hope that the bonds that are made can be lasting and generous and are not temporary or just a means to an end.