Face time beats Facetime

Advances in technology have allowed us to communicate from a distance more effectively than ever before through videoconferences, webinars, etc.  Videoconferencing software including Facetime, Skype, GoToMeeting, and many others are becoming more user-friendly. At the same time, travel to attend meetings is becoming less predictable and more expensive. I have heard talk that these changes will make actual travel to meetings obsolete, and that virtual meetings will be the way of the future.

I certainly hope not.

I returned last night from a major national meeting (the American Society of Hematology or “ASH”) which highlighted for me why travel to meetings, in person, is so important.

Certainly, some of the value I gained from attending ASH could have been gathered just as well if I sat at my desk and participated electronically. This includes listening to experts give lectures on the latest advances.

On the other hand, the most valuable aspect of my trip to ASH was the ideas that came from serendipitous conversations, interactions, and observations.

The poster sessions during national meetings such as ASH include thousands of posters developed by research groups that describe their research findings and conclusions. I spend a considerable amount of time at ASH reviewing the posters that I find of clinical and research interest and talking to the investigators about their results. My team members stood by our own posters and talked about our results, as well. The discussions give us new perspectives on how our research compares to that being done by others, what we might do next, and most importantly, how research advances can be used to improve patient care.

There are so many posters, there is no way to read all of them. They are organized based on research fields. For ASH, this includes sections on leukemia, lymphoma, blood clotting, red blood cells, etc. I always make a point to wander around the posters that are not in my field. I don’t stop and read them in detail, but at just about every meeting, something catches my eye and results in an, “I didn’t know you could do that!” moment that gives me a new idea of something we could try in our own program.

Walking around the convention center, the hotels, at receptions, and even at the airport, I talked with hundreds of past and current friends, colleagues and collaborators from around the world.  Conversations focused on, “What are you up to lately?” result in new and unexpected ideas.

Yesterday, I spent the trip home from the meeting as I usually do – writing e-mails about new ideas and potential collaborations that emerged unexpectedly from discussions and observations at the meeting.

New videoconferencing technology is a fantastic tool for advancing collaborative efforts and saving on travel time, particularly when a small group of individuals is working on a set task. However, nothing matches face to face interaction and serendipity.

So… I will continue to travel to meetings even at the risk of another consequence of modern technology that I experienced on this trip – the dreaded e-mail that says, “Flight Status:  We apologize – your flight has been cancelled.”