By Gina Dewink
This past Saturday I saw J.J. Abrams’ living room. If you don’t know who he is, think back to LOST, the new Star Trek movie, Star Wars… tons of other stuff you know. He’s a writer, producer, composer and all-around Hollywood celeb. And because of the virus, I was able to donate $20 to the Red Cross and participate in an all-day digital conference about screenwriting with him and other huge names. It was unreal.
Famous writers like Tony Gilroy (screenplay writer for the Bourne Identity movies, among other things) and Alan Yang (Parks & Rec, Master of None). I saw into their homes and watched them speak live and candidly about writing, their experiences, their advice. And it wasn’t some canned interview from YouTube. It was fluid and organic, mostly run by the questions we 3,000+ audience members were actively chatting into the sidebar.
Speaking of the audience, we were from everywhere. Multi-country, multi-experience levels. But we were all there together. We were swooning and chatting about how many times Tony Gilroy swore to get his point across and the art hanging on the walls behind them. It was delightful. It was so human.
IRL vs. Virtual Networking
I went to a marketing conference in Minneapolis recently. It was full of people who worked in the industry and were likely all from the Midwest. I tried to start up a conversation, but it was met with a weak smile and no reply. I tried a second time to chat with someone before a speaker began a presentation, but we quickly ran out of things to say. In life, there was no collective. There was no networking. I did not feel like we were sharing an experience.
Fast-forward to yesterday… we were a freakin’ tribe! The chats were coming in faster than I could read them. People were connecting. People were relating, joking, learning, befriending, flirting. An impromptu Facebook group was started between sessions. We all threw in our names, social media handles, specialties, locations. We grouped off further—are you from Atlanta? Boston? Brazil? It was exactly what you would hope to gain from a conference—excitement, motivation, inspiration, connections.
The Great Equalizer
And I couldn’t help but marvel at it. It was all made possible because of a pandemic. Every speaker was alone in their home—quarantined despite income bracket or status. The interviewers were alone in their offices, communicating 100% digitally. The audience was connected from countries and time zones around the globe. Social distancing at its finest. And though I’ve attended digital conferences before, I have never been a part of something like this. The energy was palpable. Maybe it was all those locked up extroverts thrilled to be in a group again. Maybe it was relief to see that we are all doing the same thing… trying to figure out what to do with all of this time.
People drank wine with Tony Gilroy and admired the view from Alan Yong’s home. Near the end of J.J. Abrams’ session, his son knocked on the door, interrupting and cutting the session short. The crowd erupted. Everyone with kids knew the struggle of balancing parenting with working from home, and that made us all comrades.
Finding Opportunities Despite the Insanity
I’ve been home with my kids in quarantine for 15 days now. And honestly, I’ve started to slow the pace of life—less like a caged, pacing lion and more like a sleepy sloth. And though for the first few weeks it was hard to focus on anything but the infection rate and disaster declarations, I feel like humans are figuring out what we want to spend this weird, but special time doing. And now that everyone’s schedules have drastically cleared, that might just open up some unprecedented opportunities. To quote J.J. Abrams, “I’ve always liked working on stories that combine people who are relatable with something insane.” And this, dear friends, is IN-SANE.
Gina Dewink is a Rochester-based author and writer. Find more at ginadewink.com.