Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Is the Internet Harming Dagstuhl?

Dagstuhl was designed as a place to bring a small group of researchers to an isolated environment where they could give some talks, discuss research and otherwise socialize among themselves free from other distractions. No televisions though a radio bought to hear news during the 1991 Gulf War. We could get two-day old news from America via the Herald Tribune. While they had computer rooms, in the early days we had no world wide web and email was far less used. Instead we had rooms for coffee, rooms for beer and wine, rooms for billiards and music and rooms just to hang out. Everyone stayed on premises and we had no phones in rooms, just a couple communal phones to call home.

Although Dagstuhl has expanded, rooms not only have phones but WiFi throughout. We can answer email, read news, write weblog posts (as I am doing now) from the comfort of our own isolated desks. We're watching baseball games and the debate over the internet. But worse than being connected, the rest of the world knows we're connected. I find myself having to take time to fix problem sets for my class and deal with departmental issues as do many of my other colleagues here.

The internet has greatly helped science by bringing us closer together but also prevents us from being disconnected losing many of the advantages of these workshops. A sign here proclaims "Are you here for computer networking or human networking?" Something to remember next time you go to a conference.


  1. On the other hand, being connected means that when you are discussing research and somebody tells you that person X has done some work similar to the questions you are asking, you can go and look at X's paper right away, instead of having to wait a week. The advantages of being connected surely far outweigh the disadvantages. After all, you can always refrain from reading the news or checking your email, even if they are available.


  2. I am at my least networked when visiting a conference. Sometimes I'll go days without checking e-mail.

    Of course, this is also because the wireless at computer security conferences is not the most friendly of environments. It's become a bit of a tradition now to report passwords sniffed from the air to the attendees. Purely so they can make sure to change them, you understand.

    -David Molnar