We are excited to announce the return of in-person events for the Austin Forum on Technology & Society on June 1! The event will have strict capacity limits and more spacing (and other safety protocols), but it will enable many of us to see each other in person for the first time in over a year! I predict handshakes and hugs aplenty.
However, June 1 is not just a return to the past way of having Austin Forum events, but the beginning of a new era. The pandemic forced us to move our Austin Forum events online, and that was remarkably successful. While people everywhere complained about 'Zoom fatigue,' they showed up for our events in huge numbers--and not just Austinites, but now people from across the US, from Europe, from Latin America, and even from the Pacific region. We went national and global thanks to Zoom, and we brought new friends into our community--and we will never go back to only in-person events.
So, the new era for the Austin Forum will be an exemplar for the hoped-for "New Normal" for society: fully and equitably including both in-person and online participants in meetings, events, and other experiences. In the New Normal, we should truly embrace both modes of participation; we should leverage both the richness of in-person interactions and the reach and features of online technologies so that all participants feel part of the same event, not two separate events. Everyone should experience equal access to ideas and content, and equal opportunities to contribute. This does not mean the experiences will be identical in the New Normal, at least not yet. However, we should strive to make them equivalent, and in time to blend the physical and digital experience more and more. As immersive technologies advance, this will become easier and more effective. We're going to start now, though, and learn from experience, from your feedback, and from technology and event experts. We're going to not only embrace the New Normal but strive to be leaders in it over the coming months because, no matter how you experience the Austin Forum, you are important to us and this community and we are committed to enriching your experience.
As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day, and the ultimate, blended physical+digital experience of the Austin Forum be not be crafted on June 1. However, we will take steps every month to gradually improve both experiences and the integration of them. We will test new ideas like satellite in-person locations with streaming content, common tools for in-event chat and Q&A among on-person and online participants, and even immersive environment technologies. Give us time, give us feedback, and give us a chance--we'll get there, together, and maybe provide the exemplars your company, organization, team, etc. can adopt in other ways as we collectively create and advance the New Normal.
In the meantime, we hope to see you--in person or online--on June 1 for a highly relevant topic for the New Normal: how to connect everyone, and everything, everywhere!
Jay Boisseau, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Founder