The Ramen Diaries Part 7: Or Twitter, a cautionary tale

So if you’ve read the last few posts then you will know by now that I spent last week at a big genomics conference in San Diego, called PAG. You’ll also know that, while I was there, I encountered some people who walked out of talks, yawned and slept their way through talks, and just plain talked through them.


Several sessions were held in a room that also functioned as a dining room and ball room: there were a couple of hundred chairs laid out like a lecture theatre, but also large circular tables at the back of the room. This had the advantage that you could discreetly sit and listen before sneaking out in between talks, but the distinct disadvantage that what started as people having quiet conversations at the back descended into a general atmosphere of talking across speakers.

I’m not talking a whispered word to the person sat next to them. In one memorable instance, two Asian gentlemen sat in different rows of a talk, and talked throughout.  Not one continuous conversation. They spoke for a few minutes, then stopped. Then a few minutes later started up again. And again, and again. Like they were in a restaurant. This had got me pretty riled already. More so since one of them was wearing a ‘speaker’ tab. For some reason I just feel like if you’re giving a talk yourself, you should be extra sympathetic of other speakers.

So I was pretty annoyed when the next day I sat down for some (actually really interesting) Comparative Genomics talks and found a group sitting behind me talking. They, at least, unlike the previous day’s offenders, were whispering. But they talked pretty much consistently throughout Sean Gordon’s presentation, and it was loud enough and distracting enough that I was having real difficulty concentrating.

I think you would agree with me, dear readers, that at this point in time the young gentlemen behind me were the dicks in this story (See: Don’t be a dick). But then I did a very stupid thing. Half way through the talk I was sufficiently irritated to turn around and tell them to shut the hell up. But that would have been inappropriate, and unfair to the speaker, and by the next speaker they had quietened down a little, and I was feeling slightly calmer. Until they then began talking again.

Twitter passive aggression

So I did what any frustrated Twitter user, without current access to Facebook or labmates (i.e. less public methods of rage expression) would do. I tweeted. Something along the lines of

Wish the Uni of [redacted] idiots in Comp Genomics session at #PAGXXI would shut up. I’m trying to learn about science!

Ordinarily this would have been slightly passive aggressive, but mainly served the purpose of releasing the tension enough that when they did shut up, I could listen to the science. However there were two problems with this approach.

The first, which I didn’t know about, but should have done, was that at PAG there are two big screens showing the Twitter feed. I hadn’t just tweeted into space: because I’d used the #PAGXXI hashtag I had just put it out there to anyone stood in the lobby reading the feed.

This was pretty bad in retrospect: but the idiots talking weren’t in the lobby. They were in Comparative Genomics too. And not that many people out of the general population are Twitterati. Worst case scenario, they might glance at Twitter and see, and maybe they’d shut up. Most Brits are unlikely to challenge a stranger who just called them out on talking in a presentation.

Only then I looked over my left shoulder. (I’d previously been looking over my right). Now I probably should have clocked that one of my supervisor’s collaborators (who I’ve never met) was at the same university as the postdocs sat behind me talking. And that there was unlikely to be more than genomics group at the same university, making it likely that this was his group. And that as a known Twitter user (we’ve ‘talked’ via Twitter before) if anybody would be using Twitter it would be him. Yeah… Their PI was with them.


I still don’t know whether in the six minute window between me tweeting, and me deleting it, their PI actually saw the tweet. But I do know that they all shut up very soon after I did. And that I felt very very awkward afterwards.

I guess the moral of today’s story is that just because somebody else is being an obvious dick, doesn’t mean that you can’t be one in a less obvious way. And that I should be more careful with Twitter!

3 responses to “The Ramen Diaries Part 7: Or Twitter, a cautionary tale

  1. If it makes you feel better I would probably have done something similar. :S
    Good warning for those of who tweet.

  2. those of us, even…

  3. Grrr people that talk through other people’s talks. I actually had to stop mid presentation once and ask to people to be quiet who were discussing data on the front row! Luckily they were understanding. I think the laptop generation makes it worse…the amount of people tap-tap-tapping away on their own last-minute talk or, even worse, email checking. I’ve started stepping outside to work if I there’s nothing in a group of talks for me. I get some funny looks “what, not making the most of the conference?” – but if I’m really not that interested that I’d rather delete junk mail or check Google Reader best I don’t ruin someone else’s talk.

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