MANHASSET, N.Y. I normally don’t comment on stories posted by my colleagues on the EE Times Web site, preferring to save my discourse for the events and issues that directly affect our readership. But I'm not going to restrain myself from saying a few words about the outburst by an audience member at a 3GSM World Congress conference session earlier this week.
In case you missed it, the outburst, reported by David Benjamin, took place during a 3GSM session on Digital Rights Management (DRM) discussing protected copyrighted mobile phone content. Specifically, audience member David Birch called the panel of mobile phone operators, device makers, and standards developers a "bunch of big girls" for ceding to the demands of Hollywood content developers, noting that the telecommunications industry is a much larger industry.
Now, calling a group of people names is not something civil adults do, and not good business etiquette. But I could sense the frustration with the panelists in Birch's rant, even though I was thousands of miles across the ocean when this occurred.
Let me be (hopefully not the first) to congratulate Birch for raising his voice.
I've attended many technical and business conferences over the years, and by and large whatever disagreements arise among speakers and audience members are hashed out in a relatively friendly manner. But at a recent conference I attended on flexible displays and microelectronics, I noticed a dearth of audience feedback to some of the papers presented.
On at least a few occasions, the conference chairperson had to get the ball rolling by asking speakers to clarify or expand on issues. Were the papers so straightforward that no one questioned any of the findings presented or needed further explanation? Were they so confusing that no one knew where to start asking questions? Or was the audience just plain tired and bored, maybe thinking about a pile of e-mail in their in-baskets?
I understand some people don’t want to be known as "rabble rousers" or be perceived as "not being in the know" in front of hundreds of colleagues. But I believe a far greater danger is silence.
I've sometimes sensed a bit of a status-quo attitude among various members of the academic, business, and scientific circles at many industry conferences. I wouldn't call it arrogance, but a "this is the way things are" attitude. That's not often healthy, particularly in the world of science which is predicated on bright minds asking lots of questions.
Getting back to the 3GSM instance, it was obvious Birch was fed up with the apparent resignation of the mobile phone industry to tippy-toe around digital rights management issues, arguably the major hurdle in adopting next-generation consumer electronics devices. And he had the courage to challenge existing attitudes regardless of what people thought of his actions.
There's no need for discourse at industry trade conferences to sink to a level resembling the Jerry Springer show. But in order to begin hashing out and trying to resolve pressing issues, it doesn't hurt for someone to stir the pot once in a while.