Shoptalk: Overheard at the Virtual Conference

In this parodic installment of Shoptalk, we salute the year of conferences that have tried to be.

Two thousand twenty has been a year of cancellations—of people, democracy, and our beloved academic conferences. Many brave organizations have decided to shift their gatherings to virtual platforms—because the only thing more exciting than an unattended 8 a.m. panel is an unattended 8 a.m. panel on Zoom. (Before you tell us about your robustly attended morning panel, please know we’re just kidding—obviously, unattended 6 p.m. panels are the most exciting.) In this parodic installment of Shoptalk, we salute the year of conferences that have tried to be. We look forward to bringing our regular Shoptalk series back when it’s once again safe to hoard drink tickets at book parties.

1. Person 1: “Do you think our universities are surveilling us right now?”

Person 2: “A much better investment than contact tracing.”

2. “I missed the conference bar for the first two nights, but now my daughter just brings me White Claw whenever she hears, ‘This is more of a comment than a question.’”

3. “I like grid view because it creates a queer assemblage.”

4. “I can’t overhear you, you’re muted.”

5. Person 1: “What was the name of that queer-of-color-critique celebrity panel that made the most of the affordances of Zoom?”

Person 2: “Hollywood Quares?”

6. “My dean thinks allowing me to share my screen constitutes faculty governance.”

7. Person 1: “That’s so progressive that they aren’t requiring us to have cameras on.”

Person 2: “Oh, I thought that was just to hide the number of all-white panels.”

8. “I know it was just to make up for pay-what-you-can registration, but I’m so relieved the keynote is just a Murder She Wrote Netflix Party.”

9. “Thanks for hanging in there with us as we resolved the tech issues for an hour. We have 15 minutes remaining for our three speakers.”

 10. “It’s all fun and games until you cruise in the main chat by accident.”

11. “Sorry for the background, I live here.”

12. “Nobody cares about your second book. Show us your schnauzer.”

13. “I like your business sweats.”

14. “Are they really treating Zoom passcodes like badges at the MLA book exhibit?”

15. Person 1: “Do you think you’ll take your university’s COVID tenure-clock extension?”

Person 2: “I opted out of opting in to opting out to opting in.”


Featured image: Henri Adolphe Laissement, Cardinals in the Antechamber of the Vatican (1895). Wikimedia Commons