The new wired physical anthropologists

Katy Meyers, graduate student in anthropology at Michigan State, has posted at the Chronicle of Higher Education her experience “hacking” the AAPA meetings in Minneapolis: “Using Twitter and QR Codes at Conferences”.

Prior to the conference even starting, I had been active on the twitter backchannel for the conference found at #aapa2011. About a week before the conference started, a number of more well known physical anthropologists started using this specific hashtag, and I made sure that I was in on the conversation. Throughout the conference, those of us who could get access to internet or were lucky enough to have 3G were actively tweeting on the channel about the sessions we were attending, the posters to drop by, and the various activities to check out. At the AAPA, there are about 3 to 5 concurrent presentation sessions and a poster session running throughout. By having this backchannel, those of us attending one are able to get the highlights of the other sessions. While I primarily attended sessions on bioarchaeology and digital databases, I have a general idea of the main discussions that were occurring in the primatology and paleoanthropology talks because of the twitter backchannel.

She also discusses the QR code on her poster, which led to a good number of people accessing her work online. We tried this with Marc Kissel’s poster this year, just putting a PDF version online with a QR code on the poster, and I think it worked quite well. With some more time, we’d have come up with a Prezi version of the poster.

The interesting thing to watch is the way that this backchannel is emerging, sort of a subculture within the field. The “internetness” of it all isn’t really generational – there are lots of full professors who maintain really active Facebook relationships, for instance. But something about the backchannel definitely is a generational thing. I can’t be positive, but I might have been the oldest active tweeter at the meetings. It can be so tremendously useful as a follower of the Twitter feed, because many of the active tweeters are science writers and specialists who are really good at picking out the interesting points from a talk.

I expect we’ll see more QR codes in the future – I for one am going to start putting them into talks. Conference presentations take too much work to let them expire after a weekend; we should leverage that work into a stronger, more lasting and more interactive form.