Digital conferences have got so much going for them, really. It is both more sustainable and more efficient to assemble in the virtual world, while seated comfortably in your (home) office. No need to carbon-compensate for travelling to an exclusive remote location or to have qualms about the excessive wining and dining at those carefully selected venues. You simply open another tab on your browser and silently, even anonymously if you wish so, join a live session, where experts and celebrities are speaking words of wisdom in an engaging manner. Virtual networking, too, has taken leaps forward in this Covid-world of ours. It doesn’t take long to master the differences between Q&As and virtual chatrooms or to figure out how to quickly send cheerful emojis to other delegates. And the amazing part is that you can do all of it while simultaneously checking your emails and finishing that report you were working on…
Aye, there’s the rub.
For no matter how interesting the topic or how enthusiastic the speaker is, the digital format has the uncanny ability to turn us all into fidgeting kids with a touch of attention deficit disorder. Just try focusing on a well-moderated discussion between knowledgeable panellists while your mailbox chimes alluringly and Asana is beckoning in the background reminding you of today’s tasks. Unless you are one of the panellists yourself, I can almost guarantee you will be distracted sooner than you expect.
Tuning in to Informa’s digital conference ‘ESG Regulation, Data and Reporting’ earlier this week, I can’t help but wish for the luxury of attending the event IRL. Imagine two days of informative and inspiring sessions and follow-up discussions over a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine perhaps. Those were the days!
Nostalgia aside, I notice that the agenda is highly relevant, the speakers are carefully selected, and the technical platform has plenty of useful features. I listen to TCFD Lead David Carlin’s acknowledging the frustration of companies pressured to both take action AND deliver reports at the same time. I hear the desperation in the voice of Robin Edme, Senior Policy Officer at Cerema, when he exclaims that 2030 is basically tomorrow and we are nowhere near the goal, so we need to tighten the screws, accelerate the work. I jot down the occasional quote. “Governments have forgotten their Chief Risk Officer responsibility, they have delegated it to companies,” reflects Mike Clark, Director at Ario Advisory. I even start formulating a clever question for the panel but get distracted by reading other delegates’ comments, streaming in through the live chat. ‘Anonymous’ wonders, for instance, “How can we regulate something that we do not understand, cannot directly measure and has chaotic properties?”. How could we, indeed?
Mostly, though, I keep zooming in and out as more pressing matters constantly pop up on my screen. Eventually, and with a deep sense of regret, I surrender the half-hearted attempt to stay tuned. Despite a fair amount of FOMO, I quietly leave the virtual room. I would never do that in the olden days, mind you. But in those days navigating between outstretched feet and leather briefcases, followed by the disapproving gaze of peers was the only available exit strategy.
You win some you lose some, I guess. This week, however, I wish I could transport myself to the days of limited possibilities when the physical presence of others compelled me to bestow my undivided attention to those worth it.
 No disrespect intended to those suffering from the clinical disease, of course. Strictly speaking, the term ADD is technically outdated, although it is still used colloquially to refer to someone who has difficulty staying focused but does not experience symptoms of hyperactivity.