Flow Fuzzies and Forget-Me-Nots
by: Avi Santo / Old Dominion University
I just wanted to express my appreciation to everyone — from the conveners and the attendees to the volunteers and the moderators — who helped make Flow such a cathartic and inspirational experience. I was energized by the opportunities to engage in actual conversations about subjects I am passionate about with colleagues I admire and respect, but rarely get to interact with in this manner. I am so appreciative of all the work that went into making these opportunities available. Several attendees commented to me on how this was the first conference in years at which they had attended almost every single session, which is perhaps the ultimate testament to Flow's success. Many of the roundtables I attended not only had lively conversations about their particular subject areas, but these discussions often also came back around to larger, more tenuous, at times frustrating, and yet also imaginative, impassioned, and collaborative efforts to figure out how media scholars can be more proactive, can make more of a difference, can do the things we do better and with greater results. The hunger people demonstrated for both community building and community outreach was probably the most rewarding aspect of the endeavor for me.
And this was quite the endeavor. I would especially like to recognize the incredibly brilliant, creative, dedicated, generous, and hard-working conference organizing committee – Allison Perlman, Alexis Carreiro, David Uskovich and Michael Kackman – who spent over a full year putting Flow together, and did so largely without remuneration or breaks from their other regularly scheduled teaching and grading assignments. Often, individual research, dissertation-writing, and other pursuits had either to be set aside or competed with conference organizing activities. These sacrifices deserve acknowledgment. Thank you.
As satisfying as the conference was, I am left to wonder about its legacy. As Allison Perlman pointed out to me, in order to host this event again next year, we would have had to start organizing Flow '07 a month before Flow '06 eventually happened. In part, this speaks to the complexities of orchestrating a non-conference of this nature, but in part, this is also a concern over a lack of resources and the reliance on free graduate student labor. I believe grad students can be great initiators and innovators when given the opportunity, and I am indeed thankful for the encouragement I received at UT, but I am also aware of the drain and discord that comes when creativity is not duly compensated. Quite simply, for a conference like this to be an annual event hosted at UT, the University will at least need to dedicate a full-time, paid conference organizer and several half-time salaried assistant-organizer positions who have the time and incentive to make it happen.
Beyond these not-so-petty concerns over funding, however, there are larger questions about what will come from this event that just passed. Whereas Flow's emphasis on conversation deviated from traditional conference formats in refreshing and, arguably, necessary ways, conversations are also inevitably ephemeral and easily forgotten. Already, I have forgotten more than I remember of those three fantastic days. Moreover, conversations are not easily archived for future generations (or even contemporary ones) to go back and access in the ways that traditional conference paper trails can (admittedly misleadingly) allow. In hindsight, I wish we'd had the resources in place to have recorded these sessions, even web-cast them for folks who were unable to attend. Are conversations enough? Certainly, they are important starting points – and we all agree that we have too precious few of them — but I am not certain they are a means unto themselves. Will Flow still feel this significant three months from now? Only if the conversations we started at the end of October can be continued in various ways (this special conference issue is a good start. Thank you!) and be transformed into new collaborations, initiatives, outreach efforts, and scholarship. The inspiring desire for community building I spoke of before requires that these initial conversations generate ambitious yet realizable plans of action. And that is the provocation I'd like to leave you all with: Where do we go from here and how do we get there? How do we transform the discursive traces that emerge from Flow into new social structures, methodologies, and modes of engagement?
Please feel free to comment.