Surmounted by an image of a righteous Old Testament god, the frieze above the entrance to the GE Building in New York City bears the words, “Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times“, chiseled into stone. Along with collegiality and connection, these were no doubt the objectives of those who attended last week’s 11th annual spring meeting of the American Bar Association’s Section on Dispute Resolution.
So how did it go?
Meeting long-distance friends and fellow bloggers – some of them for the very first time – was a welcome pleasure. Waiting for ADR bloggers on the morning of the first day of the program was the personable Jim Melamed, co-founder of Mediate.com, the ADR world’s best known news and information resource. Bearing a tantalizing box of Krispy Kreme donuts was Jeff Thompson, who blogs at Enjoy Mediation and represents the face of the new generation of conflict resolution professionals. Jeff, a NYC police officer working in the Community Affairs Bureau and a Buddhist who has met the Dalai Lama twice, offered us a warm welcome to the city he lives and works in. Keep your eye on him, folks – he is one of tomorrow’s leaders. It’s people like Jeff who will be bringing change and new direction to the practice of mediation.
I got to reconnect with Wellington barrister and commercial mediator Geoff Sharp of Mediator Blah Blah, who was here in the Boston area for a conference about two or so years ago. Warm, wise, and even funnier in person than he is on his blog, Geoff is someone I count myself fortunate to call friend. (Good to see you, Geoff.) And meeting Settle It Now author Vickie Pynchon in person for the first time – after numerous emails, phone calls, and comments back and forth on each other’s blogs – was extraordinary. Perhaps more than anyone I know, she embodies the spirit of the best of the blogosphere – its mutuality, its neighborliness, its collegiality, its open and courageous engagement with ideas, its generosity. As she writes, reflects and connects with her vast web of online social contacts, so, too, does she in person. Vickie is also the founder of the Professional Women’s Network of Southern California, open to those outside that geographic area.
Other bloggers I met included ADR pioneer Jeff Krivis, and Phyllis Pollack, a high-energy, hard-working Los Angeles attorney and mediator who writes the blog PGP Mediation, which discusses the dynamics at work at the mediation table. In addition to running a busy practice and publishing a blog, Phyllis also finds time to serve as president-elect of the Southern California Mediation Association.
Although I came for the programs, I primarily showed up for the schmoozing. Besides meeting bloggers, the spring meeting was an extraordinary opportunity to get to know ADR professionals and scholars from all over the globe – to have impromptu discussions and conversations in meeting rooms, hallways, elevators, and over restaurant tables. It’s a reminder that no matter how wonderful social media may be, there is simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction in real time, right in the moment.
Those were among the positives – those things that made attending the event worthwhile. There were also glitches and disappointments, of which I will mention one now. I promised readers that I would be live blogging and Twittering from the event. I am glad that I thought to include the caveat that I would do so in the absence of technical difficulties. As it turned out, reliable wireless internet access was a big problem. The hotel offered for-fee ethernet access in guest rooms (although those of us who were bunking with spouses or colleagues were charged for access for each laptop plugging in, rather than a single fee for the room) and free wifi in the lobby with only very limited and unreliable wifi in the conference meeting areas. This left disappointed bloggers like me who were planning on blogging live from plenaries and break-out sessions to bring the conversation to our readers unable to attend the event. I can only hope that organizers for next year’s conference will plan better for Web 2.0. This was a missed opportunity to make the most of the internet and bring the ABA Section on Dispute Resolution fully into the 21st century.
I’m already looking ahead to next year…