Monday, January 07, 2019

Random Bullets of MLA 2019

Figure 1. A sunny Chicago in January--who knew?
Now it's the moment you've all been waiting for--MLA 2019 in bullet form!

The good: 
  •  Weather. The last time I was in Chicago for MLA, the weather was, well, Chicago-ish: sleet, snow, ice, and long trudges up and down hill between the Sheraton and the Hyatt (or Hilton? it's a blur.) But look at those blue skies! If you were up early, the wind was biting, but some days got up to nearly 50. Also, after last year's snow apocalypse, there weren't as many people dazed from all the weather delays. Well done, Chicago weather gods.
  • Great panels. I can't tell if MLA papers are getting more interesting, if I'm choosing which ones to attend with more care, or both, but there were terrific sessions. One trend: not only more DH panels, but the ones that were there were full. I tried to go to one early morning panel, but it was packed to the rafters and in a tiny room, so I left. After last year, I didn't attend any working groups, because once bitten, twice shy. 
  • More panels than in previous years tried to follow accessibility and credit guidelines, with handouts or links, which is good. Here's a tip, MLA: maybe a space on MLA Commons where we can ALL post these papers so that people can follow along on their devices. I know that "not everyone has a smartphone" could be an issue, but it would help most people. 
  • Also, I only heard one person try the "you can hear me without a microphone, right?" routine, which is privilege dressed up as false modesty, and he was gently encouraged to use the mike. 
  • Book exhibit seemed more full and lively this year (possibly because of the snow last year) and just walking through there is enough to make you want to get to work. Lots of wine and snacks at booths, and I actually drank a glass of wine there at 3 in the afternoon. Don't let anyone tell you that academics don't lead a wild life. Also, some exhibits had the same deals online, which is helpful when you're traveling with a small suitcase (as most of us are these days) and don't have room to carry books back.
  • Helpful convention staff. So, so helpful to have friendly people on hand to tell you which way to go to get to the rooms. There were 3 levels with multiple hallways (all underground), but all you had to do was ask and there were multiple people to tell you. 
  • Jobs. Lots of conversations about precarious jobs and the lack of jobs, but not in the grim spirit of 2011.  
  • Also noted: I didn't see a lot of obviously anxious job seekers--that may have been because interviews were at a different hotel--but in talking with people from departments that were hiring, I heard a lot of "We interviewed through Zoom/Skype and chose our finalists that way." MLA has encouraged online interviews to save costs and stress for job candidates, and it seems to be working. I'd be eager to see the numbers. Our 2014 dreams have come true!
  • Great location, with easy walking to restaurants and also lots of cabs/Uber/Lyft. I liked being able to walk over the brass plates marking the original outlines of Fort Dearborn on my way to Starbucks.   
The okay:
Figure 2. We can see the wifi signal, but what's missing?
  •  Wifi. Wifi was plentiful, and free, and good. What's wrong with this picture? After a momentary lapse into printing the password in the program last year, they didn't print it this year. You had to ask, or, as I did, consult the handwritten scrap of paper at one of the information desks, placed there by friendly people who nonetheless must have gotten sick of being asked for the password.
  • Minibars.  The Hyatt hasn't gotten the memo yet that everyone prefers a refrigerator to a minibar, which is so 1993.
The not great:
  • Nothing the MLA could control, really, but we had to walk by this every day. 
  • Figure 3. Hypnotized like a snake with a mongoose,
    I couldn't stop staring at this.
     Other MLA Conference Posts:


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I don't understand your point "Also, I only heard one person try the 'you can hear me without a microphone, right?' routine, which is privilege dressed up as false modesty, and he was gently encouraged to use the mike. "

I'm going a bit deaf, so I care about being able to hear speakers, but whether a microphone helps or hinders depends on the size of the room. In a room that has decent classroom acoustics for up to 100 people, most speakers are more understandable *without* a microphone, as they are incapable of speaking consistently into the mic, and so their volume level varies enormously as they turn their heads—I can't adjust my hearing aids as rapidly as they change their volume. In large lecture halls, most speakers need microphones, because they are incapable of adequate voice projection.

undine said...

gasstationwithoutpumps--speaking with a microphone has implications for access; it gained traction as an issue on Twitter and elsewhere. Yes, many people can hear--if they strain to do so--in a large room. But if there's a microphone there and someone decides not to use it out of some sense that he doesn't need it suggests that to use a microphone is in some way for weaker speakers. That's the abstract version.

The point is that everyone can hear better if you use a microphone, if you learn to use it appropriately (i.e., not like the head-turners in your example), and it makes your words more accessible to all. How could that be a bad thing? And yet out of a sense of, I don't know, creating a false intimacy with the audience, dispensing with the mike becomes a greater thing, and you a stronger/better/more famous? speaker than those using the mike.

I don't know why--fear of technology? Fear of being thought above your station? Insane pride in your classroom voice? Wanting everyone to come down to the front so that they can hear you?

I've been in 200-person halls at MLA where the speaker at the front says "you can all hear me, can't you?" and then puts his/her/their head down and reads. Meanwhile those of us in the back, or with hearing losses, hear nothing but maybe a murmur.

TL;DR. I say "use the mike. That's why it's there."

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I agree that anyone who reads their lecture in a 200-person hall should use a microphone.

But that doesn't mean that everyone should be miked (unless recordings or broadcasts are being made).