I didn’t wish to include the following comment in my report on OCON 2006, since it was entirely too negative. However, I think it worth saying.
While most of the lectures are OCON were excellent, that value was frustratingly diminished for me by the routine ringing of cellphones during lectures, both general sessions and optional courses. At the opening of the conference, Dr. Yaron Brook announced that each cellphone ring would warrant a donation to the Institute of $250. If people pay up — and they ought to, since every ring caused serious interruption to speakers and listeners — ARI should see at least a few thousand dollars.
Yes, it was that bad. Not only did phones ring, but I saw two people actually answer calls: one during a general lecture, another from the front row of an optional course. (Those people should owe quadruple damages!) Also, when a phone rang, often people would suddenly remember to turn off their own cellphones too. Various phones would then beep-beep-beep off, sometimes in a chorus. That wasn’t as bad as a ring, but it was still an annoying distraction. (I suggest a $25 donation.)
When you listen to the recording of Tara Smith’s excellent lecture, you’ll actually hear her stop to comment upon all the money owed to ARI due to all the ringing and beeping she’s hearing. (I’m really glad she did that, since the noise was absurd.) That noise was distracting to her listeners and disrespectful to her. In contrast, just one cellphone rang during the whole of OCON last year. (Yes, that person paid her $250!) Moreover, my fifty freshman students managed just about three accidental rings, a fraction of what I heard at OCON, over the course of a whole semester.
When I originally wrote this post, I grew ever-more upset by my recollections of the interruptions. I’m calmer now, but my basic judgment remains the same. The problem of ringing and beeping cellphones was so obvious — and so easily prevented. My phone was on silent from the first lecture of the conference to the last. If I was expecting a call while outside class, I would have turned it on nothing more than vibrate. (Even vibrations can be distracting, but they’re not show-stoppers like rings.) Yet people did not take those easy steps to ensure their own silence during lectures.
So if your cellphone rang during a lecture or course, I already know you didn’t intend to interrupt the lecture. Still, you fell down in your responsibility not to do so. That’s not the end of the world, but the distraction was infuriating to a great many people — people who paid a pretty penny to attend OCON, including me. You cannot now compensate speakers and listeners for the distraction you caused. Still, you can do something good in return, namely donate your $250 to the Ayn Rand Institute.
That won’t make me happy, but it will make me less grumpy. On second thought, I would be positively pleased to hear of any such donations — whether by comment or e-mail.