Some Ups and Downs From Netroots Nation

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Greetings again from Vegas! It’s officially day 2 of Netroots Nation!!

If you haven’t been following my twitter, you should be. It’s the best way to track what’s been happening here at the conference. In this post, though, I want to talk about some ups and downs of the conference. I have a few more grumbles than you might expect, so stick with  me. Redeeming positives are further below.

I really think that, in general, Netroots Nation really needs to be better at modeling. There have been a number of things that have made this conference slightly frustrating in ways that I think could easily be improved.

For example, the wireless internet access has sucked. To use the internet in your hotel room is ridiculously expensive and the service is really not reliable at all. (It was quite arduous just getting this post up this morning.) The Netroots folks have set up a free wireless system in the convention area, but it has been rife with problems. It was down more often than not yesterday and even when it was up, it was not always consistent. There were a number of times I was sitting in a panel trying to follow my Tweetdeck and getting nothing while folks next to me had service.

This seems to me to be bad form. To many, the quality of the internet connection you have while in Las Vegas would be negligible, but we’re here at a conference about using the internet! If I were part of the conference planning group, my first priority in selecting a venue would be confirming that they have quality, reliable internet and don’t charge guests an arm and a leg for it. It’s hard to be a good Netroots activist without the Net!

Surprisingly, that hasn’t been the only technology fail. I’ve been in several panels already where the presenters were struggling with media in their presentations. In some cases it wasn’t their fault, but I still think the result was that it undermined their presentation. If you are here at Netroots to show your eagerness to interact with the blogosphere, you should at least be competent at using your own computer. I don’t mean to sound petty or whiny; I think there’s a credibility issue here. If your words are saying “I want to engage with people through technology” and your actions say “I don’t know how to engage with technology,” the presentation kind of feels disingenuous.

And, by far, my biggest complaint is the level of engagement. Most of the sessions throughout the day are “panels.” There are a few trainings and caucuses, but panels predominate. I went to four yesterday. The topics of those panels were great. I attended two that related to scientific literacy and education standards, one about marriage equality, and one about using social media. Sounds great, right? But the panels themselves betray the very values the Netroots presents for itself.

This thought occurred to me during the social media panel. The panelists were talking about the importance of reaching out to others in the blogosphere rather than expecting others to just come to us. As I tweeted from the panel: Treat online people like people and allies, not sheep. This expectation of community participation is at the core of Netroots activism; it keeps the playing field level by expecting everyone to participate actively.

The panels accomplish the opposite. They are groups of four or five who talk at us and then expect us to just ask them questions. It’s not really conversational, and it just seems to go against the very culture we seem to be trying to promote. Granted, I’m also biased as an educator and a performer; my top priority is always to keep people engaged and participating. The folks on these panels are brilliant and can speak eloquently to their issues, and there are certainly times when a panel format is ideal. I just think it’s odd that such a format is embraced as the primary format of engagement throughout the conference.

So, those are my primary complaints. They’re not really big ones, but they definitely give me a context for how to think about the rest of the conference and how to get the most out of it.

I have to say, Twitter is a pretty amazing tool for connecting with others. It can be annoying as hell when the hashtag search is full of retweets, but it does wonders for shared experiences. I’ve actually met a lot of people here at the conference through our exchange of tweets. I think it’s easy to think of Twitter as just a social tool, but it also is, itself, a great venue for delivering information. I won’t be blogging as much about the content of some of these workshops because Twitter is taking care of a lot of it. A number of people have actually come up to me and told me how much they appreciate my tweets, which makes me feel like it’s not all in vain!

It’s also been amazing to meet my readers. Honestly, before I got to this conference, I wasn’t sure many folks out there were really following this little ol’ blog, and it warms my heart to know you appreciate what I’m doing here. I hope I don’t sound as egotistical as that blowhard Ed Schultz (from MSNBC) who spoke last night. It’s just been an incredible confidence booster to feel like I’m not just wasting my time.

I’m certainly doing my best to sell myself here (though not in that way—I know this is Vegas, but seriously!). I continue to meet incredible people at every turn; there’s no doubt this weekend will have been a life-changing experience. I feel like a little kid at Disney World or something. I’m super excited to see others willing to promote my work! Pam Spaulding linked to my post from earlier this week; Joe Jervis has a picture of me on his site; and I even did a video interview with Minnesota-based The Uptake.

I really and truly feel like a part of this community, and I love it. I must continue to extend my thanks to all the amazing people who have made it possible for me to be here and who continue to be great mentors!! Exciting change can happen when we all work together toward our shared goals.

I have to get ready to get back into the fray! Go back to following my tweets for more updates throughout the day!

And in case you’re wondering, I played one dollar on a slot machine. I now have one less dollar. Cheers from Vegas!

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