“The more they tried to make it just like home, the more they made everybody miss it.” —Capt. Benjamin Willard in Apocalypse Now
Been to any virtual happy hours lately? Me neither. March, April, and May were full of events trying to make the best of a lousy situation. Nobody knew what was going on; we were in crisis and the “new normal” was months away. Fast forward to today and everyone is burned out on Zoom socialization. We have to use it for work and connecting with family, but schmoozing over videoconference is awkward and a far cry from what an in-person event feels like. How about we stop trying to create something in cyberspace that is a poor imitation (think “near beer”) of the real thing?
I started thinking about this “near-beer” phenomenon during September’s CEDIA Expo. It was the first big industry event since the pandemic and nobody knew what to expect. CEDIA staff worked tirelessly to make sure everything came off without a hitch. Manufacturers, reps, and integrators all chipped in to show up and represent as best they could. I wandered around to a few virtual booths and struck up some conversations with a few people I hadn’t met before. Nothing earth shattering happened, but it definitely set the stage for the rest of the Fall where other virtual conferences came and went without yours truly in attendance. Did anyone do anything wrong? Hell no! Everyone involved in all of these events so far deserves huge kudos for giving a damn and experimenting with different approaches. Now that we’ve got a few months’ worth of data in the bag, we can all agree that, while virtual events have their place, it isn’t possible to capture the essence of socializing in person by just trying the same format online.
I wanted to be constructive with my thoughts, so I began with two simple questions: Why do we go to in-person events to begin with, and can any of that be re-created online? My thinking shook out into three key buckets:
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In-person events are mandatory time away from your day-to-day. You have to focus. You have no choice. In many ways we do this because we know ourselves too well. Sitting in front of a computer there are too many distractions. There are…. Sorry, just had to check my email. Anyway, being at a conference face to face with fellow integrators is energizing and inspirational. Oooooh….here’s a cool cat video. Focus Clifford!
Here’s one that works reasonably well in the cloud. Still, nothing beats live classroom instruction combined with online learning. Virtual conferences have some great educational opportunities and I’ve learned more this year through online education than any other time in my life.
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This one’s the kicker. When I think about why I truly love CEDIA Expo, Total Tech Summit, or any ProSource event it’s usually around play. We’re adults and supposed to be serious, but at the risk of eliciting gasps from the audience, here’s what I’ve cherished the most: I remember running 18 miles around Mission Bay in San Diego during CEDIA Expo. I remember hanging out late at night with buddies in Milwaukee at an all-night chili place during a ProSource event. They don’t have chili on Zoom. I checked. There, I said it. The reason I’m willing to leave my family, business, and routine behind for a few days has a lot to do with play.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any virtual social events, but I’m lobbying for a stoppage of trying to re-create what was. Let’s create something new that, in the words of the immortal Chris Cornell, “doesn’t remind me of anything.” Do I know what that something is? I wish I did. I watched my kids attend a Travis Scott concert inside Fortnite. I’ve been to a virtual basketball game wearing Oculus Rift goggles. I’ve played Kahoot! during a Scouts BSA troop meeting. None of these seem like a silver bullet to me. If we can figure out ways to socialize through playing games online, we might be able to redeem the virtual happy hour.
What are you doing to reinvent socializing during the pandemic?
Stay frosty, and see you in the field.