ELI 2008 Annual Meeting, Day One

Photo from this site, where the “about” tab says “The photographer doesn’t matter here–the photo does.”

I woke up this morning with one of my favorite pieces of music in my head. I take that as a sign that my brain is very happy. And why not? The ELI Annual Meeting is in full swing.

And swing it does. There’s a remarkable zest in the rhythm here, and enough finger-snapping beats to make Count Basie himself smile with delight. Henry Jenkins’ keynote got us off to a fine start. Plenty to think about, some things to take issue with, some things to embrace, and over it all, a feeling of gratitude that he’s doing his work and helping the academy understand the intellectual feast that lies before it, whether or not the setting is what we’re used to. (I was very fortunate to have the chance to talk to Henry some at dinner last night. He shared a wonderful old-time-radio resource with me–otrcat–and when the talk turned to film and Rod Serling and McLuhan and Guitar Hero it was tremendous fun to go exploring with this man. The phrase “thought leader” gets used a lot. It certainly applies here.) Later in the afternoon I went to a presentation on haptic technologies by two Purdue computer scientists at the Center for Data Perceptualization. We all had a chance to play with haptic devices at our tables. It was an eerie experience, almost synaesthetic, to be manipulating a piece of plastic struts-and-buttons machinery and feeling something akin to the weight and heft of a bowling ball, or (even more spookily) feeling the attractions and repulsions of atomic particles within an energy field. The potential for tapping new modes of understanding and expression is enormous. What might a haptic short story “feel” like? I’m reminded yet again of the “live it” in Simak’s “Immigrant.”

Next stop yesterday afternoon was the presentation I did with students Serena Epstein and David Moore from the University of Mary Washington. Serena and David had taken my Intro. to New Media Studies class last summer and done terrific work for their final projects. I knew they would have fascinating, provocative things to say and share, and they did not disappoint. In fact, it was a pleasure riding on their coattails. The audience was most appreciative. Best of all, or most dangerous of all, I found myself getting pretty caught up in the enthusiasm in the room, so much so that my wild notion of a first-year gen-ed experience based on New Media Studies started to seem less wild and much more do-able. I got the strong feeling that the idea really could fly. (Look out.)

But that’s probably what I treasure most about ELI: the strong and unshakable belief that runs through the entire organization and emerges magnificently in these annual meetings, the belief that we can and must put our heads and hearts together and figure out how to address these core questions. How should we teach? How should we do our scholarship so that research and teaching are truly symbiotic? How do we keep our chins up and our spirits high as we work within the often-frustrating processes and politics in our home institutions? Those are the tough questions, and ELI engages them directly, fearlessly, strategically–and with a tremendous sense of community and goodwill.

As I look around the room and see dear and enthusiastic friends and colleagues, along with all the new faces who reflect the energy and excitement of their first visit to ELI, I feel deeply re-united.

I feel like I can get me some dreaming done.

3 thoughts on “ELI 2008 Annual Meeting, Day One

  1. Gardner:

    My only solace in not being there is knowing that you and the other folks from UMW are and will bring something back to me. Knowing what richness, intensity and comaraderie I’m missing there is darkening this already dreary winter day in Fredericksburg. Say hi to all there.


  2. Pingback: Small victories. | odnett

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