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Bill Wringe

Several of your arguments (for example, the argument about separation of work and domestic spaces, and the argument about discrimination against care-workers) seem to be based on the assumption that zooming has to be done from home.

Outside of pandemic circumstances, why would that be the case? (Before the pandemic I gave a number of Zoom-based talks, and participated in several workshops using Zoom and similar software, and generally preferred to do so from my office at work, for precisely the reasons you mention.)

Eric Schliesser

Well, the piece is about zooming in the pandemic. As you have surmised, I am also no fan of zooming from the office (before or after the pandemic). For, I share my office with two others, and so finding a suitable work-space to zoom always involves further stress and effort. So, we would need to develop dedicated zoom spaces for folk like me at work. Second, most of the reasons I have to dislike zoom relative to the republic of letters carry over nicely to such circumstances.

John Quiggin

Back when blogs were a thing, the point was regularly made that they weren't egalitarian - star bloggers got more attention and so on. But they were a lot more egalitarian than the mass media model they were challenging. I think the same is true of zooming v conferencing/

On the energy cost of computing, that was a big dispute a decade ago, and I think it was pretty thoroughly debunked. In any case, given that everyone has a computer on all the time, the marginal cost of Zoom must be negligible

Eric Schliesser

1. As one of the surviving academic blogging dinos I can say that the republic of letters would be a lot more egalitarian without blogs. And while blogging have changed the production and distribution of prestige and scarcity in the academy, they have, on balance, reinforced the steep hierarchies.

2. Sure, let's say that marginal cost of zooming is negligible. Then the environmental argument pro or con is a wash relative to the republic of letters.

Kati Farkas

Was going to make the same point as Bill: you can zoom from your office.

I strongly disagree that the republic of letters is vastly more efficient way of learning.

I am giving three zoom talks in the next two months. Giving talks really helps my paper writing: I put together the first versions of my papers when I have a talk coming up. (I may not get around writing a paper ever in the future if a talk doesn't force me to come up with something!)

I'll have focused and very useful feedback on all three occasions which I otherwise wouldn't have. Maybe a couple of people from those audiences would be willing to read drafts and send comments, but certainly no more than that.

I hope there would be some benefit for the audience too. From my own point of view, I would not read most of the papers that are presented at our departmental colloquia but I'm very glad that I get a glimpse of many different areas this way.

One of those talks would not happen at all f it was a real life talk, because it's for a US audience and I can't travel for a talk to the US. So I'm going to reach an audience and receive feedback that I couldn't have otherwise.

The other two occasions would be more doable since they would involve me flying to various places in Europe. Yes, it would be nice to see friends at those locations. Yes, it would be nice to get to know new people. But I don't think that these advantages would balance the environmental damage.

Eric Schliesser

Hi Kati, I am willing to grant (as I did in response to John) that the environmental point may be a wash, and certainly during the pandemic there is no way to travel anyway. (Which is why I find it odd you keep assuming that the baseline is more travel.) But the question is if outside the pandemic, zoom-stars will not be in higher travel demand and so if we're not entrenching an even steeper star system. You evidently don't mind zoom at all, so I am happy for you that the system works well for you.

Bill Wringe

You say that the piece is about zooming during the pandemic. But the environmental argument can't be an argument for zooming during the pandemic: it's got to be an argument for zooming vs physical presence. (I think the egalitarian argument you mention is as well: the idea is that it corrects for harms that would occur if physical presence were required.)

There are two comparisons which make sense
1) Zooming versus no talks/conferences during a pandemic: relevant considerations - is it a worthwhile use of people's time, could they be doing something better, does it entrench inequalities - often but not always gender-based, but also sometimes age and career-stage based, and possibly also race-based - between those who have substantial caring responsibilities and those who don't.

2) Zooming vs not zooming in non-pandemic situations: relevant considerations - egalitarian and environmental versus the loss of opportunities for more sustained interactions in more relaxed circumstances.

I don't know how the comparisons work out in the two cases - I suspect that in post pandemic circumstances, our best bet will be a healthy pluralism. But your reply to my comments on the post suggest that you are comparing zooming in pandemic circumstances with no zooming in non-pandemic circumstances and that doesn't seem especially illuminating.

Eric Schliesser

I am rejecting zooming in and outside pandemic circumstances. But trying to halt its spread during one.

John Quiggin

"As one of the surviving academic blogging dinos I can say that the republic of letters would be a lot more egalitarian without blogs. "

Can you develop this claim? Writing from the opposite side of the planet to most of the republic, I feel very strongly the opposite. Without blogging, I'd be an obscure decision theorist, at least as far as the world outside Australia is concerned. More generally, the economists who have gained a lot of attention through blogging are almost all located outside the inner circle that dominates the official prestige hierarchy. The only exception I can think of is Brad DeLong who's prominent in both.(I'm not counting Krugman)

But maybe you're influenced by one particular philosophy blog that seems to be devoted to reinforcing hierarchies. AFAICT, that is a unique case.

Eric Schliesser

Hi John, I am not denying (a) that I may be influenced by my limited disciplinary experience. Also (b) I agree that blogging helped in some places (as I noted above) shift the production and distribution of prestige and scarcity. But I don't think it helps abolish these hierarchical credit economies. I think Zooming may also shift that anew, but since zooming is time-intensive and, thus, zero-sum, I expect it to facilitate even steeper winner takes all hierarchies.

John Quiggin

"I think Zooming may also shift that anew, but since zooming is time-intensive and, thus, zero-sum, I expect it to facilitate even steeper winner takes all hierarchies. "

I'm in two minds here. It could be that superstar seminars will crowd everyone else out. I'm not seeing any evidence of that as yet, but it's certainly a possibility. On the other hand (and again from the antipodean perspective) the removal of geogrpahcial barriers to entry is a big deal.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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