IA Summit 2016: Handshakes to Hugs

Note: this article reflected my feelings on IA Summit at the time of attendance. As of 2018, I've learned of serious safety violations at the conference over many years. Please consider that when reading this, as my experience may not be typical. Until further notice, you should not attend the IA Conference (which is what IA Summit is now known as) or support the IA Foundation. – Ed.

I've noticed something during my IA Summit visits. There's a moment, usually 3/4 through the first day, when I find myself in my hotel room staring out the window, wondering, “Is it not going to feel special this year?”

I had that moment my first day there, this year. But by Sunday, that was a distant memory. The doubts were cast aside. And I felt a heady mix of excitement, joy, inspiration, motivation, and love.

This is my 4th IAS in a row. I'm not an old timer, but this year I was asked to host a First Timers' Dinner with the great Stacy Surla. It was a fantastic experience, because I reflected on how much I enjoyed my First Timers' Dinner with Karen McGrane in 2013. As all of us dined together, first as strangers, I looked around the table at all of these ridiculously smart and enthusiastic people forging new friendships, and felt grateful.

Leading up to and during the Opening Reception, I met a lot of new people – in fact, the first person who said hello to me was Brandy Fortune, and she offered to share some guacamole (!) I also met Jesse James Garrett (and talk identity and labels with him and Alberta Soranzo, one of the co-chairs) – something I missed out on last year.

As always, the keynotes and talks were motivating. Lisa Welchman shared her personal stories of how small design decisions can impact us as humans. Cory Doctorow took that same theme into the privacy and security space, discussing how big personal data isn't necessarily ours. Leonie Watson used a creative movie quote slide deck (!) to decimate arguments against accessibility and inclusion. And, Jesse James Garrett gave 7 talks in his closing plenary – a clarion call for IAs to shape the world we live and work in.

The theme, “A Broader Panorama”, was reflected in many of the talks. Inclusion, diversity, accessibility, equality, fairness – these may not sound like IA-related concerns but they truly are. Christina Wodtke touched on this in her personal and powerful 5 Minute Madness wrap up, saying that IA “is not neutral”, a nice bookend to all of the keynotes.

During this conference, I had the good fortune of sharing meals with many of my friends – old and new. We had wide ranging discussions about the things we learned, to day-to-day work and lives, to careers. This, to me, is one of the most powerful things about the Summit. Kyle Soucy said it wonderfully during her 5 Minute Madness talk: “This is the conference where a handshake turns into a hug.”

On 5 Minute Madness

This was the first year I was able to stay all day on Sunday, and that meant 5 Minute Madness. I had heard about it after my first IAS in 2013, and only understood it to be a free-for-all that was packed with emotion. And oh my, is it. I knew I had to do it.

Hastily-written notes. I had a plan. I threw it out. Didn't get to the go forth part.

Hastily-written notes. I had a plan. I threw it out. Didn't get to the go forth part.

At the end of the conference anyone can line up, take the stage, and speak. That's it. No set topics.

I made it into the line fairly early, and could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I stood and watched my friends take their turns before me and say incredibly powerful things. I had written notes, but, decided instead against using them. I got on stage and said what was in my heart. Much of it is a blur now, but I remember feeling that I was this close to completely losing it the entire time. My voice was shaky, my eyes watery. As I spoke I looked around the room, hundreds of people, and saw many faces I knew and many I did not know. I said that not only did everyone here see me professionally, they saw me personally as well. They saw me, and it was all honest and true.

I left the stage, feeling completely emotionally drained, and listened in on others until I needed to leave for the airport. I walked out of the conference room, alone. I ran into a friend on the way down the escalator to the restroom where I felt completely overwhelmed with emotion and had a big ol' breakdown. The love, the joy, the community – and it was over, for now. My friends, my IA Summit family, another place I can call home... was gone for another year.

The Closing

The hashtag activity for #ias16 is all but gone. I'm following a lot of new people on Twitter. I have “The Time of My Life”, the song I did at karaoke with Misty Weaver, stuck in my head a lot. I feel empowered and motivated to do better work. I am taking action. I am working hard to bring it. I miss my friends. But they've also inspired me to be better, to do better.

And next year, we'll do it all again in Vancouver.

This is the best conference. These are the best people.