Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An EPIC conference

Quite a statement, you might say.

But actually not so.

This conference is very dorkily, named EPIC.
In industry

Clearly someone was trying a little too hard to make the great acronym work. Praxis? Understandable that this is actually a word, but I doubt anyone uses this in their normal vocabulary. But then again, this conference was filled with mostly anthropologists and ethnographers so...I could be very much wrong. It did come up in several of their presentations. Well, whatever. It exists the way that it is. I'll leave it at "maybe."

Anyway, my boss and I were attending this conference in an attempt to see what was going on in our relative industry. Studying people and its impacts on the "industry" - industry in this case meaning anything to do with corporate, e.g. not-academia. They sort of dubbed the by-line of this conference as "where theory meets practice," which I thought was a nicer way of thinking about everything more than anything.

It was three full days (plus a beginning reception event) chock-full of paper presentations, keynote speakers, workshops, and salons all about ethnography, anthropology, industry practices, methodologies, and other observations. The theme was that there was no theme. Kind of interesting actually. I liked it but it was also exceptionally tiring.

Because they capped attendance at 325 (people were actually waitlisted to get into the conference...so if they made travel plans and never got in they were kinda screwed), it was fairly intimate. Also because everyone was listening to all of the sessions (minus the salons or workshops), everyone was together the entire time. It was incredible. No splitting up and going to smaller rooms or needing to prioritize and think through the schedule about what you wanted to hear more than something else. Everything was laid out for you. This meant networking was at an extreme. You could actually start to recognize people and make friends. It was...weird. In a good way. Friendly. You could actually go up to speakers afterwards and talk to them several days later and not feel like a creepy stalker because they would actually remember you.

And this was all held at the gorgeous Royal Institution as its venue.

For some historical background, where our lectures were all being held (the Faraday hall), is exactly the spot where for hundreds of years all scientists and innovators had to come from all over Europe and defend why their discoveries were legitimate to the scientific community. Our speakers stood in the exact spot that, for example, the first person argued that electricity was not only real but should be taken seriously, measured, and used for mass consumption. A lot of historic moments happened here. And it was ours, for three full days. The implications were enormous. And wonderful.

Our opening keynote speaker (a Chinese-American) pointed out this fact and had her picture taken by the audience, basically saying, "Never thought you'd see a Chinese American woman standing up here giving a talk to a bunch of people! Hah!" It was pretty funny, and awesome.

The rest of the building was also ours for the using, and it's a gorgeous place. Books are everywhere (assumedly for the borrowing, though I was afraid to touch anything for fear of its historical significance of some kind) and awesomely all of our food was catered. We had light breakfast, two if not three tea breaks (with little cookies/biscuits or candy) and then a very catered lunch (sandwiches and Greek salad the first day, lasagna (veggie or meat) the second day, and salmon and creamy potato salad the third day, all with little optional desserts). All in all a very nice venue I'd have to say. I enjoyed it immensely, despite it being a solid 40-45 minutes from my apartment, which is three times the normal commute length for me. A nice, temporary change in the middle of the city.

The presentations themselves varied quite a bit in theme and topic, centering on anything from big data to myths, personal data to our five senses as humans and how they've been incorporated into marketing and technological innovation, daily ordinary joy to rituals, presentation maximization to the consumption junction (where consumers go to buy items and a decision is made between competing items). There was even a presentation about the Brixton pound, a fake currency that has appeared in a south central neighborhood in London to try to boost the local economy (people trade in normal pounds sterling to this funny money and can only use it in local shops) and another about the concept of consumers as fetishes. A study on the Apartment Therapy taste regime and how by applying a methodology of studying the vocabulary used you could pull apart what comprised "good" versus "bad" taste. How every piece of research is really just a social construction because no matter what you do it is always from your point of view and you can never be truly objective. And finally, how human computer interaction has really become human computer relationship, and why we in the west have grown up in fear of our technologies rather than wonder and delight, as they did in the east.

In other words, for days, I was enchanted. Ideas floated through my head and my mind expanded. Though sometimes I was bored out of my mind and despite those chairs being a delightful shade of fuchsia and padded they were the most uncomfortable chairs known to man (no person sits up that straight, I can guarantee you), I was enlightened.

From this I know I've made the right decision to apply for my masters next month. Even though my future is in flux as it is tied to a company that is now being bought, I will still press forward. Because the only way is forward. And I cannot wait to know more.

Thanks, EPIC.

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