I am not certain that virtual conventions are really worthwhile. That may be a controversial statement, but I think I can stand by it even in a post-pandemic world. Today marks the start of the AIA 2021 Virtual Convention series. While I am all signed up to attend all 4 days spread out over the summer I will not truly count it as a convention. I mean how can you really?
The AIA National Convention event was completely canceled for 2020, and boy that was a bummer as Bob and I had a sweet party lined up for the LoaA podcast in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, CA. But well the pandemic took that one down. Thankfully we were able to get our deposit back on that one! Whew! So there are a few reasons why I do not think virtual conventions are remotely close to a replacement for traditional conventions.
This one is should really be an obvious issue. I do not get to see my friends and hang out together with all my comrades from around the country. In the past, the convention was the one time per year I could almost always count on spending time with my “virtual” friends. As many of my extended architectural family is spread across the US, the convention provided the opportunity (and excuse if you will) for all of us to gather in a location and socialize. That does not happen in a virtual environment. I find that the social events set up within these conventions are actually worse than the typical online interactions I have with those friends. Also, those platforms are not a good way to meet new people either, to be honest. While I understand the attempt and the need to make the attempt, they just seem to fall short of meaningful interaction or at best become a very crowded and unruly Zoom call. At this point, who needs more Zoom calls in their life?
Again here this one seems obvious. I like the opportunity to travel to the different locations of the conventions. Even when they have repeated themselves, it is still nice to get away to another city for some change of scenery or to be able to see the spots I did not make the last trip. That was one of the main reasons I like to attend conventions. A majority of the time, during architecture conventions at least, you can get access to some places that the general public is not allowed. I have been on so many wonderful behind-the-scenes tours of buildings and museums that I would not even be able to pay for as a typical patron. At times, those can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Also an architect I find the idea of video touring or something along those lines a poor excuse for the real deal. I can just look at photos if that was my desire. The ability to move and breathe in a place is a very large part of architecture and the appreciation for it. There is no replacement for that in any circumstance. Architecture is something that needs to be experienced in person and not through imagery or videos.
Random Unpredictable Spontaneity
This one is not always at the forefront of convention activities, but for me, it is an important one. The fact that I may run into someone or make a new friend and have my day totally derailed in the most fantastic way. Whether that is joining a group headed for lunch or a few folks headed to see a new project because one of them has an inside connection that will let a few people onto the site, you just never know what kind of unplanned activity is possible. I like that possibility of chance. It does not really happen that often in my life as I feel the older I get the more routine my life becomes in some ways, but when I am attending conventions, anything can happen. For example, meeting two new architects and by the end of the next day helping them load a Jacuzzi style tub and some furniture into their truck at the close of the builders show in Vegas while getting berated by a county sheriff is not a planned occurrence and certainly not a virtual one. That random act is a great story to retell and in the process, I made two new friends that are now part of that larger “virtual” family.
I know that the organizations have to try and make a convention happen. For many, it is a large revenue generator each year. So I do not begrudge them for making the efforts to hold some type of annual convention. I get it, I honestly do. I just do not buy into the same level of hype. It honestly is not much beyond a high-caliber CEU session or a celebrity guest TedX. I am not trying to be harsh here, I have still registered and attended many of them in the last year and a half, but for once they were only for the CEU availability. Typically that is not really on my radar for conventions. It is interesting how some of them have been organized, and I can say they have not all been “equal” in their execution. So I am interested to see the way that the AIA National events transpire. While I think there are some benefits to this as a method (like all this virtual business), I hope that they do not become the standard moving forward. Maybe they should just keep this type of virtual event as an optional way to attend, but not the only way. Please not the only way.
So I must admit that before the pandemic some of the conventions had started to feel not as worthwhile. I was attending several per year and some of them of course were more work-related (the podcast) and less professional (me as architect) related. But the pandemic has me wishing for the days of travel and conventions and in-person shenanigans. I can say that I did enjoy the reduced cost for “attending” all of these virtual events, that was certainly nice. At times I feel like I might have overpaid for some CEUs, but I don’t really think that was too many. It was a good method for me to clear those required education units in a few short days. So as of this moment, my first scheduled convention is in October for the TxA annual convention. It will be in San Antonio and I am already looking forward to it.
Until next time,