Dec. 6th, 2009

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This post was originally written for my local Women in Science and Engineering chapter's blog. I'm afraid it's not my best writing, as I found the experience a more upsetting than I'd hoped, but I think the day we were marking is of particular interest to folk who read my blog, and not all of you may be aware of it.

TRIGGER WARNING: this post discusses actual violence against women, specifically the story of the École Polytechnique Massacre. There's little graphic detail here, but several of the links in this post contain fairly disturbing information.

In Canada, December 6th is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. The day was chosen as a memorial to those killed in the École Polytechnique Massacre, which happened on December 6, 1989. On that day, a lone gunman walked into the school and killed 14 people, injuring more, before turning the gun on himself. He claimed that feminists had ruined his life and that the young women engineers he targeted must be feminists because of their non-traditional career choice.

Members of CU-WISE, GSA, IEEE WIE, Womyn's Center, Foot Patrol, and MEN were out in the unicentre on Dec 3rd to raise awareness of the issues, and to raise money for a pair of women's shelters in the area which burned down. At 1pm, we held a candlelight ceremony in the unicentre:

After the ceremony, we showed the new film, Polytechnique. I made the mistake of staying to watch part of it. Not that it is a poorly done film, but I found it quite deeply disturbing. Mark Lepine's suicide note actually sounds too much like the death threats I, and many other women involved in the open source community, have received from another deranged individual (trigger warning: the link is to a post which discusses some of the vile stuff he says). And after watching part of the film, I then had to walk through Carleton's halls, which share some of the same institutional feel to the hallways of École Polytechnique. I will caution that this film can be highly disturbing, and note that I will likely never watch the rest of it.

However, despite my misgivings with the film, and the unpleasant feelings that come with marking the date of the Montréal Massacre, I think it was a great opportunity to talk to some of our wider university community about the history and the issues.
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I never knew it was possible to feel both so energized and so exhausted from a single day conference. TEDx was amazing, and I've got about a billion ideas firing in my head about teaching, communicating, passion, music, and great ideas. But I can barely look at a light without wincing, so although I feel guilty for missing the after party, I think I'm going to grab a light late dinner then curl up in bed early tonight.

Here's something unusual about the conference to get your brains going while mine sleeps, though. We were asked not only to turn off all our beeping devices during the lectures, but also asked specifically not to tweet about the event until a break happened.

As an attendee, I loved the visual quiet of not having people constantly opening phones around me. It helped me be that much more engaged in the talks. I actually like turning off my phone, and I had just watched Renny Gleeson's talk on antisocial phone tricks, so this rule seemed like a pretty neat idea. (PS - watch that video, it's 3 minutes of cell phone behavioural hilarity.)

However, while I'm willing to give up tweeting during a conference, I also know that tweets from my friends are a large part of the way that I engage with conferences I'm not attending. Knowing this, I guess, there was a designated tweeter who put stuff on the TEDxOttawa twitter stream but... well, go take a look at it. I'm too tired to articulate why, but I look at those tweets and feel like some of the magic, the passion, the enthusiasm just isn't shining through there. And if you look at the tweets using the #TEDxOttawa hashtag now you'll note that they're all like "woo, it was awesome, thanks!" which is nice, but again not particularly engaging to outsiders.

So while I actually liked putting away my cell phone, I'm also bit sad that I couldn't bring a piece of TEDxOttawa to my friends and followers while I was there, and I feel like TEDxOttawa missed out on a lot of potential buzz they could have gotten from excited attendees.

If you were organizing a conference, would you suggest this to attendees? Would you like this policy if it had been imposed upon you as an attendee?

And I'll leave you with one more thought: Ironically, one of the talks was about learning, and the presenter specifically suggested that we'd remember more of TEDxOttawa if we wrote about it. If only we could have tweeted! ;)


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