Joined: May 2002 Posts: 16299 Location: Florida
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About the Shermer chat...
To all members that attended the Shermer chat:
Soon I'll be posting the transcript of the Shermer chat on our Chat Transcript page, but first I'd like to open the floor for a civil discussion about that chat and all future author chats. To begin with, I'm extremely disappointed and humiliated as to how the night unfolded. All I can do is apologize and try to figure out ways to see that this doesn't happen again.
I thought all night and morning about what to say to members about the failure of last nights chat session. Certainly, I could just put the transcript up and act like everything went as planned, but those of you that have been a part of past author chats know that last night was a complete nightmare. Those that are new are left assuming we always have such chaos. So providing a follow-up post, such as this one, seems essential.
For whatever reason Dr. Shermer wasn't really present in that chat session
I really appreciate that you posted this, I was very seriously considering not bothering with an author chat again after last night.
I guess I just have some suggestions about what I would personally expect from a chat, in order to feel motivated to read the books and really look forward to the chats:
I do think there needs to be more structure. Most of the people in the room last night were participating in discussions that had *nothing* to do with the author or book. I would expect that the conversation would predominantely revolve around a main topic that the author is discussing, and any side topics between members to be discussions that pertain to that topic. I don't expect that people should act like this is a normal weekly casual chat - they can talk about other things *any* other week.
Also, it's important that there is some effective moderation. Maybe have yourself (or one or two other people) ensuring that after a certain amount of digression, that the topic is pushed firmly back on track. We *only* have an hour with the author, we have to be clear about why we are there. I don't think it's ever too late in the conversation to regain control of it.
Lastly, just what you suggested - that the author have a clear idea about what is expected of them. I know that you want things to be fun and not really formal, but I think there is a better happy medium for this. Although I have no idea how Shermer would have acted regardless, I think we needed to set a better tone for him to take his cue from. Although I missed the start of the chat (I had trouble getting onto the site for some odd reason) and it may have started off better, I think that people just having discussions amongst themselves set the wrong tone, particularly since you'd also told Shermer prior to the chat that it was going to be very casual, so maybe he just felt that his constant presence and attention wasn't that important. I don't know. But I think it's our responsibility to act in a more "professional" (for want of a better word) way and cue authors into taking us seriously.
I think these were the main reasons last night was so disappointing to me. And I don't think that I would consider going to another chat unless I was convinced these problems were taken seriously and addressed.
Joined: Aug 2002 Posts: 287 Location: Fort Collins, CO
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Re: About the Shermer chat...
I think a compromise would be best for us. I think that, largely, if the author has agreed to stop by, then they should have some sort of idea as to what they should be covering in the time they're with us. The open chat format is fine, so long as the author is actually participating--otherwise, why bother billing it as an author chat.
I can't help but wonder if the hiatus Shermer took to eat dinner was due to his own rudeness, or because he figured he wasn't needed in the chat because of all the background noise going on. I think if we tried one chat with everyone being quiet, and responding to the author rather than the author trying to keep up with ten or twenty different voices, we might be surprised at how much more these chats prove enriching.
Edit: The open format is necessary so that everyone can address their questions/criticisms/etc to the author, but the flurry of noise that was going on last night really killed the magic of having a best-selling author in chat. With everyone having their own discussions in the main chat window, Shermer really got drowned out. I can't help but wonder if he felt that his presence was unnecessary, and a waste of his time. Edited by: ZachSylvanus at: 5/28/04 11:09 pm
Joined: May 2002 Posts: 237
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Re: About the Shermer chat...
Have you attended previous author chats? I've attended quite a few and all have been with this same open format. We have a room full of people sitting here waiting for our guest to arrive. Naturally we're talking among ourselves. We acknowledge when the author arrives and greet him. He has our attention. Last night, as with previous chat sessions, we attempted to engage Mr. Shermer in discussion on topics related to his book. He was not responding.
The conversations that ensued among members after that were generally related to topics of belief, which I thought were appropriate in the context of this author discussion, even if they weren't specifically about his book. After all, we've spent the past 2 months discussing his book among ourselves. We may not have much else to say about it without his input. Had Mr. Shermer actually participated in the chat session the conversation would likely have been much more centered around his book and ideas, as has been the case in previous author chats. When Mr. Dawkins joined us our conversation was almost exclusively focused on his ideas because he was attentive and communicative. The same was true with Howard Bloom. In fact, he pretty much took control of the conversation, directing at his will.
How much an author gets involved in a chat may depend on a variety of factors including how seriously he takes this chat, how interested he is in discussing the material with us, what kind of a day he has had, his mood, how well he types, or how comfortable he is with a chatroom setting. From the very start Mr. Shermer did not seem to be interested in discussing these subjects with us. This was quite disappointing. I don't think it would have improved anything if Chris had taken control of the conversation and limited it to certain topics. The fact that we were able to discuss other subjects that were interesting is what likely kept most people in the chat room. It certainly wasn't because we were enjoying a stimulating chat with Mr. Shermer. Take away our ability to enjoy interesting discussion with each other when our author seems to be mentally absent and you'll see people dropping out pretty quickly. What's the point in being there?
I think that the best thing is simply to make sure the author understands his role before the chat begins. Chris mentioned to me after the chat that he plans to start encouraging authors to look at the discussion forum before they attend so that they are familiar with our ideas beforehand. I think that's a great idea. We're not merely looking to have some "celebrity" author grace us with his presence and make small talk. We've been reading his book. We're interested in his ideas. This is a chance to discuss those ideas, to learn and grow. Whether or not Shermer understood that going into the chat is beyond me, but Chris has assured us that future guests will be. If they are, there will probably be no need to force people to stay on topic. When the author is on topic, the other participants generally are as well. That's why we're there.
I agree with you completely Chris. I favor the current open structure which puts the ball in the author's court, allowing them to choose their own level of participation. If they choose not to participate, this reflects more on the author and less on an open style chatroom.
If people do feel that side conversations are distracting or somehow detracting from the main author conversation, then we can add a guideline that recommends side chats occur in side chatrooms. But for the most part I feel authors are smart enough to follow multiple threads of conversation while allowing themselves to choose which ones if any to engage in.
Joined: Aug 2003 Posts: 1790
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Re: About the Shermer chat...
You're batting close to a 1000 so far, which is exceptional, and something to reflect upon...
So, last night's Author Chat lacked perfection, wasn't up to par, didn't pass muster, was incomplete in some substantial way- it wasnt a failure by any stretch of the imagination, at least when you place it within the larger BookTalk project.
I don't think you need to explain, apologize, offer excuses, or clarify anything about last night's Author Chat...you've already assembled a body of evidence that shows you know how to keep Book Talk on track.
Joined: Feb 2004 Posts: 259 Location: San Francisco, CA
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He Watched the Lakers game instead of doing the Chat?!
What a wanker
Chris, don't feel too bad. I think miss manners would give you a 100% grade in that you can not control the behavior of others.
A chat is no less an obligation than showing up to someone's house for dinner. If you can't make it, even at the last minute, you need to let people know.
To watch the lakers game instead is just plain disrespectful. I though being decent to each other without the incentive of a reward for doing so in the afterlife is what humanist were supposed to do (I'm paraphrasing kurt vonnegut). Apparently, Shermer doesn't fall into this category.
Quote:To begin with, I'm extremely disappointed and humiliated as to how the night unfolded. All I can do is apologize and try to figure out ways to see that this doesn't happen again.
and Katala Au added:
Quote: I was very seriously considering not bothering with an author chat again after last night.
My mind is simply boggled. I thought it was a wonderful chat. Whether an author is there or not, chat is casual by nature: it is NOT an interview, and it is NOT a university class. We have had the good fortune to have guests who get paid large sums of money for their time, who can command auditorium sized audiences, come and talk to us just because we asked them to. Richard Dawkins is (about) 73 years old; Michael Shermer is (about) 47. He's younger than several of the members! So we asked him to come out and play, and he came out and played.
If you want serious, considered, intellectual analysis of relevant issues then, well, read their books. If you want my opinion of a chat that was a disaster it was Howard Bloom: the man had no idea what a "chat" is, made no attempt to interact, and simply lectured.
When Michael came to the chat he had no idea who we are. Again, it was simply a gesture of goodwill for him to show up at all. So we chatted about the things we chat about and one of us, a newcomer, got to see who we are. I enjoyed the chat, laughed at the Lakers and the thingys, had a great time, and went away looking forward to Michael's (we're on a first name basis now) next book.
One more thing: suppose Dr. Shermer (ok, maybe we're NOT on a first name basis) was impressed with our little group, and pokes in to read these little screeds? Now who is insulting whom?
--------------------------------- Miller's Law of Strange Behavior- To understand any apparently baffling behavior by another human, ask: what status game is this individual playing, to show off which heritable traits, in which mating market?
You're speculating about the factors that lead to the way the chat turned out, and so am I. They're both just speculations. I was just saying how I felt about the chat, nothing more, nothing less. Chris asked for feedback, and I would feel more disrespectful about pretending I didn't feel this way, than reflecting on what my experience was like. I really don't think its necessary to shoot down someone else's views just because they don't mirror your own. I'm simply saying what my personal experience was, what my expectations were, and what issues I'd like to see addressed (not necessarily adopted).
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