Conferences and conventions can be exciting, but attending one can be a pain unless it is in your own city. Thus over the years, I began to choose carefully what conferences I would attend. Not only is there the conference fee to pay, but one must travel to the conference city, and pay for meals and lodging. One must also consider the time consumed at the conference and en route.
Of course, I was frequently sent to the conference by my employer. They usually paid the costs. On other occasions I had other motivation for attending a conference. In either case, I eventually concluded that attending conferences was not worth the time and money unless the conference was really good.
That has now changed. I recently signed up for an on-line apologetics conference sponsored by Athanatos Ministries,athanosministries.org. The ministry sent me a log on name, a password and URL by e-mail. Thursday morning, I logged in and was admitted to the conference “room”. In an instant, I was part of the audience even while seated in my own home wearing sweats, and the food from my own kitchen was better than the continental breakfast usually available in the hall prior to a conference in a hotel.
The conference “room” consisted of several boxes on my screen. One box gave the schedule. Another gave a list of presenters and attendees present with a icon indicating who’s mike was live. One box was used to show a still photo of the current presenter, Another box was available for video clips and/or PowerPoint presentations. The largest box displayed comments and questions from everyone in the loop. At any time, I could type in a question or comment. As soon as I hit enter, my name would show in that box followed by my comment or question. This became very valuable when the host or the presenter asked for feedback from the audience.
Anthony (Tony) Horvath, the director of Athanatos Ministries served as host. There were also several attendees who were marked “Tech” after their names. These men obviously served as technical assistants to Tony. In addition to all that I could see and hear, there was obviously a lot behind the scenes that Anthony and his techs had access to. Sure, there were a few, technological glitches. We temporarily lost sound a couple of times, but overall the conference ran smoothly. One would never have guessed from simply watching the screen, but Tony was operating from the kitchen of his rural Wisconsin home. Two of the presenters were in California, one in the state of Washington. Two were presenting from Milwaukee. One of these finished his presentation, answered a few questions and then excused himself so he could go and teach a college class. One of the presenters appeared to be on the East coast. Those of us attending were from all over. One person apologized for getting the times wrong, but then he was in the Netherlands.
Tony, each of the techs, and each presenter had a microphone. Any of them could provide voice contact, but everyone could make entries in the comment window. No one was ever completely out of contact.
Before each session, Tony would chatter on his microphone to assure all was set and that the presenter had his microphone on. He would then start recording the session and introduce the presenter. The presenter could speak live or use pre-recorded remarks. Those using pre-recorded remarks often used the comment window to embellish their presentation. Of course the presenter could ask for video clips or graphics to be thrown on the screen. On several occasions, movie trailers were used to illustrate points.
For those presenters not speaking live, the audience could ask questions via the comment box, and have him answer the questions in the comment box. Those speaking live could ask for input and get it in the comment box. Following the formal presentation, each presenter stayed on for long enough to answer questions. We would type in questions that the presenter would answer verbally.
Each day ended with a panel discussion between the day’s presenters. Aside from the fact we could not see live faces, it was as though we were all in the same room in spite of the fact that I was in New Mexico, Tony was in Wisconsin, the presenters were in their homes or offices anywhere in the United States, and the rest of the audience could be anywhere in the world.
The conference lasted 3 days. It was the most relaxing conference I ever attended. Sure, there was a cost involved to get the URL and password, but that cost was nominal. I do not think Athanatos Ministries was trying to make large profit. Obviously they had some expenses, but I am sure those costs were significantly less than renting a conference room in a hotel.
By now many of you are wondering what apologetics is. Apologetics is the art of using logic to explain one’s faith. In this case, the discussion centered on the Christian faith. The conference targeted authors, people in the film industry and other artists. The focus of the conference was how artists such as us could make an impact on the world. Two good web sites on apologetics are: hausvater.org and apologeticsguy.com.
Like it or not, an author writes from one or another point of view. In theory, an author could simply be an unbiased recorder of what they observe either here in the real world or in their imagination. Indeed, some authors, particularly journalists, claim to be impartial. In reality, impartiality is difficult to achieve. We all sit down at our computer with values and concepts already in your heads. Some of these are positive and others negative. Thus there is the risk that the author will subconsciously delete or place emphasis on certain points of information. I submit that truely impartial and unbiased writing is very rare. At best what we get is writing that is tolerant of opposing views.
I write from a Christian point of view, and because of the nature of the conference, all participants had a Christian world view. Because of my Christian point of view, I strive to write fiction that incorporates Christian views and morals. We discussed why and how authors and movie makers can influence the world for Christ in their works. We also discussed techniques. Mention was made of common doctrinal points and goals.
Several presenters were from the film industry. I tend to think of Hollywood as hostile to Christianity, and indeed there are those in Hollywood who are hostile. The presenters showed me that there is a growing number of filmmakers who are Christian and who make movies from a Christian point of view and a few who make movies that are specifically Christian films. Their contention is that even a secular film that exhibits Christian values will help inform the audience of Christianity.
What really blows my mind is that I participated in an a type of conference that is becoming common today, but would not have been done ten years ago. Sure it would have been technically feasible, but very expensive and impractical. A large number of dedicated phone lines would have been required along with an army of technicians and operators.
Twenty years ago, it would not even have been possible, though something could have been presented via the web in crude form.
Thirty years ago, it would have been a dream in the minds of the pioneers of the IT industry.
In the 1950’s an on-line conference of this nature would have been science fiction along with Tom Corbet, space cadet. Space travel made good stories and TV, but no one expected man launch satellites or to set foot on the moon any time soon.