I’ve been to a lot of conference presentations. I’ve been to presentations where the content was very out of date (a 1998 presentation on Gopher usage in the campus library), presentations that have contained factual errors, presenters that have mispronounced common words (yes folks, .gif is pronounced "jif" regardless of how you or I think it should be pronounced), and presentations in which I didn’t agree with the opinions of the presenters. In most cases, mainly since I’m a presenter myself, I haven’t complained. Crud happens. It happens to all of us. And presenters always seem to be at the bottom of said hill the crud is rolling down. (Projector problems anyone?) But a presentation I sat in on yesterday crossed a line and I’ve got to say something about it.
Here’s the title and description of the session:
What’s Hot in Library Technology
In this session you will discover how to make emerging trends in technology make your library come alive. We will discuss the basics of web browsing interfaces, trends in communicating online such as chatting and video conferencing, we will also look at blogs, great websites, web 2.0 and virtual worlds such as Second Life. The session will wrap-up with a Q & A session.
The session was in two parts with a break in the middle. It sounded like an interesting presentation so I went. Heck, I might pick up something new. I usually do. If nothing else I might learn something from how the speaker presents the material. What I got was my jaw on the table for an hour. (The second hour was very different so I’m going to just talk about the first half.)
The presenter introduced herself and started to go over her agenda. She quickly asked wether the audience were PC or Mac users. Everyone I noticed indicated PCs and she acknowledged that the room was PC dominant. She explained that she was a Mac user and that she was going to focus on Macs and cover them a lot since it "would be good for the audience to understand the differences and know the history of Macs vs. PCs." I got a little nervous at this point as I didn’t see how that fit into the topic as advertised but then again, I’ve done similar things to help people get the larger picture of an issue so I sat back to see what she’d do. Little did I know what we were in for.
What we all got for the better part of the hour was an anti-Microsoft, anti-Windows verbal screed.
Early on the presenter was comparing Mac vs. PC hardware and said that Macs were better because they were "all one machine" and therefore "had no CPU." (She meant that many Macs had the CPU and monitor in one unit instead of a separate CPU box and monitor but that’s not what she said.) Besides being a completely nonsensical statement, there are all-in-one PCs and there are Macs with non-built in monitors. (Never mind that fact that all laptops of any type would fit into the all-in-one category.)
Next she pointed out how the Mac OS was shown by Steve Jobs to Bill Gates and then Bill Gates proceeded to "steal it" from Apple and develop windows. Ok, but didn’t Apple "steal" the idea of a GUI from Xerox PARC?
She mentioned Vista and how "it’s had so many problems" and that upgrading to it is difficult at best and that on a Mac you can just upgrade the OS without upgrading your hardware. (Yeah, let’s try to run OSX on a Mac Classic.) Meanwhile I was running Vista on my laptop in the back of the room.
Throughout the presentation she included videos to illustrate her points. Some she’s created herself ("on my Mac", implying that this was impossible on a PC), and some that she’s downloaded from YouTube (again "on my Mac" using some cool tools that she didn’t cover in any detail.) Every single video showed not only how much better Macs were (the Mac vs. PC guy over upgrading to Vista), but were specifically chosen, or edited, to make Bill Gates look like a bumbling, humorous, techno geek, and make Steve Jobs look like the second coming. The single worst video was a three-minute edited version (the original was about an hour long) of the recent joint interview of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates from the D5 conference. Other videos included the famous one of Gates getting a BSOD during a demo and a scene from Frasier.
At one point she did show an "early Windows commercial" which she believed was for "Windows 96 or something". (For those not sure, no such OS ever existed.)
I, nor anyone else in the room, should have expected nor deserved such a presentation. Macs may be cool technology but arguing over platform when, I assume, few in the room had any control over what platform their library uses, serves no purpose. Never mind that fact that such issues are not relevant to "What’s hot in library technology."
Even if the session had been titled "A comparison of Macs and PCs", "Windows vs. MacOS", "Why your library should use Macs", or even "Macs Kick Ass", what was presented was unprofessional at best, and did nothing more or less than a disservice to everyone in that room.
All conference presenters have a duty to the conference attendees to present their content in a balanced and professional manner. It’s ok to have an opinion and to advocate for that opinion but what happened here was neither a health dose of advocacy or excited evangelism. It was "I’m right, you’re wrong. I’m cool, you’re not. Get a life, get a Mac."
(My comments should in no way be construed as a criticism of anyone involved with the set up or running of the conference. Presenters are, in most cases, solely responsible for the content of their presentations and the organizers generally have no way of knowing exactly what any presenter will say. However, I would not recommend that this particular presenter be invited back next year.)