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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Life without Flying


A reminder that registration for all three Cambridge conferences are now live: STOC (early registration deadline April 30), Complexity (May 3) and Electronic Commerce (May 6). The week of June 6th should be quite exciting and busy.

Bill asked me about Europeans who might not want to register early given the disruption of flights due to volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajokull. While the possibility that problems will persist into June is very slight, we will reimburse any registrations for people unable to travel to STOC because of flight cancellations related to Eyjafjallajokull. While I can’t speak for CCC and EC I suspect they’ll have similar policies. So preregister with confidence.

In computer science, we have become quite dependent on air travel, for attending conferences, being able to give talks and discuss research with colleagues, for attending committee meetings and grant review panels, recruiting trips and much more. I’ve argued before that the main reason CS handles conferences and recruiting differently than every other academic field is because CS didn’t really get started until the jet age.

Suppose that the volcano situation happened at a larger scale and prevented air travel worldwide for the next several decades. How would our field (not to mention the rest of society) adjust? We could still travel just a bit more slowly. We wouldn’t revert back to the early 20th century situation with conferences either regional or rare. Rather video and Internet conferencing tools will become much better and widely available.

When we make the effort to travel, we and the people we visit make the effort to focus on the purpose of the trip. Harder to spend the day in my office claiming I’m busy if I’m just working with a colleague over the Internet.

The end of air travel would force the issue making it socially acceptable to virtually travel somewhere. Meanwhile I don’t get jet lag, get to sleep in my own bed and spend more time with the family. I think I’d like the no-flight world.

9 comments:

  1. I wonder how many people came up with new ideas while crossing the Atlantic at a leisurely pace on a steamship.

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  2. I wonder how many people came up with new ideas while crossing the Atlantic at a leisurely pace on a steamship.

    Do you mean in between their bouts of seasickness?

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  3. All of the conferences should ALREADY be online and taped-and-avaiable. we have the
    technology to do it!
    (Fair counterargument: how much would
    this cost and is it worth it?).

    I wonder if the volcanic activity will
    spur people on to do this. Even if it does
    not lower attendence, the notion that it could have may do it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Suppose that the volcano situation happened at a larger scale and prevented air travel worldwide for the next several decades. How would our field (not to mention the rest of society) adjust?

    We would all be more busy surviving...

    ReplyDelete
  5. If really all airports would be closed for some decades, a lot of high speed train lines in the US and in Europe would be build. It is quite realistic to have trains travel on about 200 mph on average with some effort and for a lot of journeys within the US and within Europe this seems reasonable fast.

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  6. I agree with Bill. It's started already. Intractability center in IAS, and Chicago's theory group have started to record their theory seminars:

    http://theory.cs.uchicago.edu/seminar.php

    A negative side of such a change might be that it will become much harder to convince departments to pay for the trips. It won't be a big problem for people like Lance and Bill (who have traveled a lot already), but it will be for younger faculty members and graduate students.

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  7. "While I can’t speak for CCC and EC I suspect they’ll have similar policies. So preregister with confidence."

    it is so nice of you to be so confident with the money of others

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  8. "Perhaps you are looking at the lousy job market for tenure-track faculty and thinking about not attending graduate school at all. Don't worry."

    I'd worry.

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  9. Another way that the field would change: right now, many computer scientists are first-generation immigrants (Asians, Indians, Israelis, Eastern Europeans, etc.). They still maintain ties to their home countries and travel back a lot. If flight was impossible for decades, all these people would either go back to their home countries for good (and perhaps try to establish more research centers there), or find a way to permanently transport their parents and family members to wherever they're living (less likely).

    ReplyDelete