28 March, 2006

The Milblog Conference: Why?

Update: Holly Aho has posted her thoughts on the questions I raise. Be sure to check the comments over there to hear my response.

I've probably been a bit remiss in not mentioning this earlier. The Milblog Conference begins in Washington DC in less than four weeks. The list of panelists and participants has grown quite a bit since the initial announcement, and a venue has been chosen. Also, military.com is sponsoring a cocktail reception the night before. There is no cost for the conference itself, and anyone may attend (there are still slots available).

This all sounds like tons of fun, but I have to admit that were not friends using their frequent flyer miles for my ticket, and were not I sharing a discount hotel room with a fellow blogger, I wouldn't be willing to go into deep debt to attend--though I'd be very sad to miss it. I've spent a lot of time asking myself, "Why?" Why is this event important? Can I expect to accomplish anything or get anything out of it more than just "fun and fellowship?" Why have a milblog conference? Here's what the conference organizers say:

The conference is designed to bring milbloggers together for one full day of interesting discussion on topics associated with milblogging. We will explore the history of milblogs, as well as what the future may hold for this medium which the military community is using to tell their stories.
Milblogger Dadmanly inadvertantly addresses this in a post about why he blogs:
In my view, the most important function of the MILBLOG is to provide information. On-the-ground reporting, and the perspective of those closest to and part of the action.

What treasure we would have if members of earlier, “greatest” generations had had this technology and communications available? [snip] How much more we would understand wars, the sacrifices they impose, the moral lessons they teach, the humanity they confront. We were there at the inception, and it’s an awesome responsibility. I was honored to be a part of it.

Technology continues to break down barriers to all kinds of opportunities. The world itself grows smaller, with dramatic examples of how really close together all of our lives become. We can squander these opportunities, and concentrate on material possessions and comfort. Or, we can look around at God-given opportunities to make a difference. [Dadmanly also has some interesting ideas about the future of milblogs as a strategic/tactical tool in the war on terror.]
These sound like a pretty good defense of the significance of milblogs and reasons for the conference. But what about those like me (and about half of the attendees) who are not milbloggers per se, but are military supporters of varying degrees (with or without blogs)? What do we contribute or learn by attending? Would the personal expenses of attending be better applied elsewhere? Commenter "Anthony" at TC Override asked that very question:
Let me get this straight, there is a MilBlog conference in DC, with military people and supporters attending, to discuss the history of milblogs and where they might go in the future. There is only a 3 year or so history, how much is there to discuss? There are 300 spots available, many of which will be used by people who do not live in DC and will therefore have to travel there and incur expenses, plus there will be expenses for the actual meetings. If each participant spends $200 (cheap when you consider that some are coming from the west coast), that ia a total of $60,000. At $750 each for a laptop and voice software, these people could buy 80 laptops for injured soldiers through Soldiers Angels. I'm sure Chuck and a lot of his readers will think that I'm dead wrong and probably a comunist, but I'm not trying to start an argument, just some thought.
That hits pretty close to home for me, of course. I spend a lot of time begging for money for Valour-IT, but I'm going to be spending $120 (my portion of the hotel room and taxes) plus meals/tips and $30 in gas to/from my "local" airport in order to... what? I'm not sure I have a good answer, but here are what some commenters said to Anthony:
LL: This conf gives those of us who have supported these guys, cried for them in their pain, or even just commented once in a while [a chance] to show that there are people out there listening, a chance to shake their hands, say "THANK YOU so much for serving, tell us what it was like to put down your thoughts and pain for us to share them with you," and maybe buy them a beer or two.
Beth* A: I think the brief history of milblogs is a powerful one in our nation's history, certainly the recent past, notable for it's contribution to getting the military's side of things out there[...] I like the knowledge that I'm seeing a part of that history unfold before my eyes. And, if discussing that contribution's future, and knowing first-hand that they have a support base keeps these great bloggers going, then they will in turn continue reaching still more people with their words, and the exponential value of that is worth the cost of a plane ticket or several.
Tom Miller: From someone who has attended more than his share of "technical" conferences, I can only guess how much $$$ was spent on them that could have gone into making better products, adding a job or two here and there, etc, etc. I'm really happy to see this conference because I know it will strengthen and support the milbloggers and what they do. That's enough for me.
AFSis: I've sent plenty of money and items to our soldiers. This is just another expression of support.
Those are certainly good responses and worthy of consideration, but I'm not sure they convince me. On a "professional" level, I look forward to whatever attention I will be able to draw to those who might support Soldiers' Angels and Valour-IT--which seems like a pretty good reason, though many expected to attend are active in SA and supporters of Valour-IT with greater creds and professional polish than I. On a personal level, it seems to mean a lot to me to meet face-to-face with people like Blackfive, The Smashes, Holly Aho, and Tim Sumner and the many others who have done extraordinary work for Valour-IT. And of course there are a number of people who have become dear friends to me through our online interactions that I can hardly wait to hug and thank in person. But that all feels very selfish, as we have accomplished so much good and created some lasting relationships without ever having laid eyes on each other. A milblogger who was considering attending told me it would be "a personal indulgence" for him. I'm not sure I'd disagree...

Like I said, I'm not sure I have an answer to these issues that I'm comfortable with. I'd love to hear what the rest of you think.