In this guest post in our #SchOnline series (scholarly conversations online), Clare Griffin (@balalaichnitsa) calls for the organisers of online events to think about the access implications of time zones.
In the brave new world of virtual conferencing, there has been something of a sense that this is more open, more inclusive. After all, we don’t have to travel for hours to get to a physical venue. But there are still a number of accessibility issues, one of which I want to address here.
Time zones still exist.
A substantial number of these virtual events are being held live. That’s great, if you are in that time zone or a neighbouring one. Less so if you are not.
Many such English-language events are being held in North America and Western Europe, so are most directly accessible to academics based in those regions. What about those of us in other time zones? I am in Kazakhstan. There are academics interested in English-language events based in Australia, Singapore, India, and many other places.
Technically, we can still take part in such live virtual events, if we are prepared to get up in the small hours of the morning, or stay up until midnight.
When we were in the era of in-person events, I would regularly be flying multiple hours, crossing several time zones, to get to an event. And would be exhausted. Now, to take part in live virtual events I would often have to disrupt my sleep. And be exhausted.
Sleep is important for everyone, and we shouldn’t expect people to disrupt it to do their job.
Sleep is a particular issue for me, as sleep disruption is a major trigger for one of my conditions, a bipolar spectrum disorder. I am less well if I disrupt my sleep. If I try and participate in live events in time zones far to the West or East of me, I will harm myself. And weren’t well all supposed to be more concerned about our colleagues’ well-being during the pandemic?
This all gets even more uncomfortable when the event in question is some form of global history event. In-person global history conferences in North America and Western Europe would regularly have no participation from scholars based outside of North America and Western Europe. Holding virtual global history events as live events recreates this troublesome disbalance.
Live virtual events can be wonderful. I have been attending virtual seminar series, and they have been joyful, collegial, and just as informative as in-person events. The ones I have been attending have been in Moscow, because the live events held by my colleagues there line up much better with my time zone than most English-language events.
The point of this piece is not to argue against live virtual events, but rather to push organisers to think about the access inequalities they create when they make that choice, and push them to ask themselves whether that is really the best choice from the options available to them. So organisers, when you plan your next virtual event, remember – time zones still exist.