Adventures at SUS and SLSA 2015

Greetings! I had a very busy fall semester, and for some reason decided to do two conferences and a symposium while teaching and authoring a course on my own at U Waterloo.

Let me tell you how much actual dissertation work I got done :S

This was my third time attending SUS, and this time it took me to Pittsburgh, PA. I’d never attended one of these in the States, mostly because I was worried about cost, but I ended up driving there from Southern Ontario in about 6 hours (who knew??!). The 40th Annual Meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies – “Global Flows: Diaspora, Diversity, and Divergence in Utopia” gave me the opportunity to dig deeper into my own research on ideas of techno-utopianism and the devices that are complicating our relationship with our ubiquitous technologies. I noticed a very large technology focus at this meeting that wasn’t present in previous years, so I didn’t feel like the odd one out. To say I was thrilled to be there would be a huge understatement. Here’s a bit of my abstract to give you an idea of what I talked about:

[…] I survey how the posthuman represents the postmodern malleability of machines and bodies through the use of wearable heads-up transparent displays. I engage with Donna Haraway, Cary Wolfe, Rosi Braidotti and others to conceptualize a posthuman “mobile media subject” that privileges and expands the body’s boundaries instead of abandoning it (as is commonly seen in virtual reality (VR) theory). This transient posthuman subject is situated between digital and physical realms through the union of body and mind with technology, and via the construction of a subjective “blended” space separate from the shared consensual or “consensus reality” of public life (Berger and Luckmann) […]

I presented alongside amazing scholars, saw a lot of familiar faces and, of course, met new people over the proverbial dinner/drinks/chats norm that makes conferences so special and welcoming. I was also voted into the Steering Committee as a Member at Large for the 2016 year, due to a nomination from my former Professor from my days as an MA student. Exciting! I look forward to many more years contributing to SUS, and I feel more at home at this conference than probably any other.

Moving onto SLSA – oh, man. I didn’t know what to expect from this conference. I’d never been to Texas, and I have to admit that that was the main draw for me initially, since I wasn’t sure that my research would quite fit in with the folks over at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative. How wrong I was! The 29th Annual Society for Literature, Science and the Arts – “After Biopolitics” was an eclectic mix of digital arts researchers and bio-technology medical researchers…or, as I like to call them, the “hard science” people. I attended many lectures I didn’t understand fully, and there was definitely a divide between the two groups, but I enjoyed both sides equally. Also I got to meet Cary Wolfe! To become star-struck by an academic is a real thing, people. You read someone’s work, struggle with it, write about it, get told that you missed some points, read it again….then you meet the person and they have the most wonderful Southern ‘twang you’ve ever heard. It’s magic. Also, the SLSA folk *really* know how to treat their conference attendees and I think the party-level seriously rivalled that of SUS (which I’ve never said about another conference up until now). Here’s a bit of the abstract for the talk I did there:

[…] This talk focuses on controversies surrounding the release of smartphone applications and mobile media devices, with regard to the amount of power held by companies and government over our digital and physical bodies. I explore whether privacy issues have affected our willingness to compromise our agency through our reliance on mobile media services in daily life […] I look at how the mobile media user creates a subjective identity through the reclamation of the body that re-asserts power and agency through mobile smartphone usage […]

I also brought along and spoke about the newly developed Nymi Band that I was lucky enough to receive an early dev kit for. I used it to demonstrate devices that can create a digital signature of our bodies using biologically-inspired personality profiles, like heart-rate patterns. I’m likely going to be testing this device’s range of possibilities using an Arduino kit very soon.

I presented alongside 3 other speakers, and I don’t think I’ve ever fit in so well with a panel before. The Q&A session was amazing, and the four of us had a great discussion, both with the audience and with each other. I want to try to go to this conference again, because it was just so overwhelming, in a good way. There were three keynotes, I think, lots of dinners and parties, and lots of art installations. It felt, to me, like the biggest conference I’d ever been to, not because of the number of attendees (the actual biggest conference I’ve been to is PCA/ACA, at around 2,000 presenters), but because of the sheer level of awesome that was present. I also think I fell in love with Houston a little bit, and look forward to going back there sometime soon.

The rest of the semester involved wrapping up my second year English course, Literary Criticism 1, and now I’m teaching a Rhetoric course for the winter term. Since it’s online, I’m going to have way more time to work on my current dissertation chapter. I’m also taking a bit of a break from conferencing, and am not scheduled to do another one until April. I’ll update on that closer to the date!

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