In our research on academic air travel, we learned that one of the main reasons academics go to conferences is for the opportunity to interact with other academics in an informal setting. Academics commonly cited the conversations they have during conference breaks and meals as being particularly beneficial for professional and personal networking. But given that eating meals is such an embodied and material experience, what would it look like to experience that remotely? Can we really eat a meal with someone on the opposite side of the world in the same way as though they were sitting next to us?
In September 2017, SUPP researchers held a ‘virtual conference meal’, to experiment with these questions. We collaborated with researchers at Lancaster University to share a digitally co-located meal and conversation. We reflected on the challenges of time differences, the differences between physical and digital presence, and how we might re-configure conferences to enable remote forms of collaboration and sociability.
We are grateful to Windsor Fick at RMIT University for recording and producing this video of the event.