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Lessons From a Convention

A Winter of Discontent has shifted over the last few months to a Spring of hope. Many countries (and in the US, most states) are now actively vaccinating their populace against Covid-19, unemployment is dropping dramatically, and people are beginning to plan for the post-epidemic world.

As I write this, Norwescon, a science fiction conference held annually in Seattle, Washington since 1976, has wrapped up its first virtual incarnation. With a focus on science fiction writing and futurists, this convention has long been a favorite of mine, and a chance to talk with professional authors, media producers, and subject matter experts. This year, that whole process was held across Airmeet, which (a few minor glitches aside) performed admirably in bringing that experience to the computer screen.

It is likely that the year 2020 will be seen in retrospect as the Great Reset. While many of the panelists and audience members expressed a burning desire to see the end of the pandemic and the opportunity to meet in person, what surprised me was the fact that many also expressed the desire to continue with virtual conferences as an adjunct to the experience, rather than simply going back to the way things had been.

This theme is one I've been hearing echoed repeatedly outside this venue as well. It is almost certain that post-Covid, the business place will change dramatically to a point where work becomes a place to meet periodically, where the workweek of 9-5 days will likely transform into a 24-7 work environment where some times are considered quieter than others, and where the obsession with butts-in-seats gets replaced by a more goal-oriented view where reaching demonstrable objectives becomes more important than attendance.

This conference also laid bare another point - your audience, whether as a writer, a creative, a business, or any other organization, is no longer geographically bound. For the first time, people attended this convention from everywhere in the world, even as people who traditionally hadn't been able to come locally because of health issues were able to participate this year. The requirements of geo-physicality have long been a subtle but significant barrier for many such people, and the opportunity for this segment of the population to attend this year meant that many more points of view were presented than would have been otherwise. This too illustrates that for all the talk of inclusiveness previous, the rise of the digital society may be the first time that such unacknowledged barriers are now actively being knocked over.

Finally, a theme that seemed to permeate the convention this year is that increasingly we are living in the future we visualized twenty years ago. Science fiction is not about "predicting" the future, despite the perception to the contrary. It is, instead, a chance to explore what-if scenarios, to look at the very real human stories as they are impacted by changes in technology. During one (virtual) hallway conversation I had, noted Philip K. Dick Award-winning author PJ Manney made the point that ultimately the technology, while important in science fiction, is not the central focus of writers in this genre. Rather, the stories being written explore the hard questions about what it means to be human in a world of dramatic change, something that anyone who works in this space should always keep in the back of their mind.

This is why we run Data Science Central, and why we are expanding its focus to consider the width and breadth of digital transformation in our society. Data Science Central is your community. It is a chance to learn from other practitioners, and a chance to communicate what you know to the data science community overall. I encourage you to submit original articles and to make your name known to the people that are going to be hiring in the coming year. As always let us know what you think.

In media res,
Kurt Cagle
Community Editor,
Data Science Central


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