Nerdfest 2009, aka Surviving the National Communication Association Convention

Preamble: I write to you from my awesome (like a hotdog) hotel room on the 21st floor of the Chicago Hilton. Although it is just a regular hotel room, it is awesome for three reasons: 1. I can see the water. I’m not sure what water it is, but it’s a big ol’ lake and it’s cool. 2. I have two bathrooms and two beds, and I feel compelled to use all of them. (Yes, the maids probably hate me.) 3. The 21st floor is technically part of the “executive” tower which means that I get to use the special express elevators to get to my room. Yay me!ct-gondolas-skyline-chicago-photos

Amble: The reason for my adventure in Chicago is a presentation at NCA, the National Communication Association’s annual convention, where nerds from around the country convene ostensibly to share research and have deep scholarly conversations about issues that are “important” to the world. In reality, while there is a lot of research talk, there is self-aggrandizing, womanizing, partying and peacocking galore. It is FASCINATING. It’s also ironic how, for a convention of supposed communication professionals, so many are pathetically socially awkward and/or inappropriate. I guess those who can’t do, teach, but still! I may have to run a course next year about how to stand in the elevator with a female graduate student and not ogle her breasts. (Really, it can be done, I promise.)

As I am already in a PhD program but am not yet on the job market, this NCA trip is pretty mellow. I don’t really have to impress anyone right now so I have plenty of time to sit back and observe. It’s also my first solo NCA trip in that I do not have a roommate or a friend (or Mr. T!) that I’ve traveled with. So, I don’t have a lunch buddy or guaranteed dinner plans. In that regard, it’s been kind of lonely. I’m so the lame-ass in the lobby with nowhere to go. Of course, the solo-ness has afforded me the flexibility to blow off the academic parties and relax, and even to make new friends!

This evening, for example, I found myself in the lobby debating whether or not to order room service or to wander the streets of the South Loop looking for vittles. Whilst deliberating with myself, a gentleman from my panel presentation yesterday came up and started chatting. Turns out he is a former Adventist and was completely intrigued by my thesis work on Adventist Health. We got to talking and he invited me to dinner with his friends. Having no plans and for once not being an anti-social hermit, I accepted and we found ourselves at a Thai joint by the hotel.

I am so happy that I didn’t decline and eat alone in my hotel room because we had a fascinating chat comparing notes about school (they all attend University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana) and having generally nerdy convos about everything from a Foucauldian look at technology and culture, to the Bible as a analogy for the power of language, to the NCA legislative assembly. It was utterly delightful and reminded me of the “official” reasons for NCA–sharing research, making connections and meeting new people. In my three trips to NCA, this was the first time I actually did that. Woo!

As the sun sets on this NCA trip (I leave tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn), I am happy I made the journey. I kicked butt in my own presentation, I listened to some surprisingly fascinating panels and I even made new friends. Not bad for a couple days in nerd country. Now, as it is only 7:30, I will wait until a properly late hour to go to bed (say, 9:30) and I might even do some, gulp, homework. G’night!


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