While it is disappointing that ICS 2020 cannot be held as a live event, as many of us have already learned, a virtual meeting offers unique benefits to delegates.
Some advantages are not immediately apparent, yet have larger ramifications. For instance, virtual events are much more eco-friendly. If you are concerned about climate change and your impact on the environment, then you should be concerned about the negative impact of attending international meetings. A round-trip flight from London to Las Vegas and back generates 1902 KG of CO2 per passenger! 1 Annually, "aviation contributes about 2% of the world's global carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)" 2. While many airlines now offer carbon offsets, there are concerns that these schemes are not as effective as claimed. "An EU study from 2017 found that 85 per cent of offset projects overestimated their impact or failed to reduce carbon emissions at all." 3 But it’s not just travel that has a significantly negative environmental impact, there are also the additive effects of a large gathering at the destination. "According to a study from Birmingham University, a one-day physical event can produce up to 170kg of Co2 and create over 5 tonnes of refuse waste". 4 ICS 2020 Online will therefore be the most eco-friendly meeting ICS has ever hosted and you can attend knowing that your environmental impact is virtually non-existent!
Over the years, ICS members have told us that they have struggled to attend our annual meetings. This has been due to a range of factors such as limited travel funds or time constraints such that, to attend the meeting or to participate, they have had to use personal leave and fund their own expenses. Although the ICS has provided reduced rates to individuals and groups most impacted, with the associated costs of travel and accommodations, attending meetings remains out of reach for many. As an inclusive society and British charity, this has long been a concern. But, now, with the move to a virtual meeting, these issues will no longer be relevant, especially with the modest registration fee offered this year. Given the quality and depth of the presentations delivered at the annual meetings, ICS 2020 Online promises to be the greatest educational value offered during the pandemic. We therefore hope that this year's meeting will allow anyone who wishes to attend!
More apparent, but just as significant, are the unique advantages of a virtual event, as experienced by many of us in conjunction with meetings held by other societies.
• One of the most beneficial aspects of a virtual meeting is that the presentations may be viewed wholly or in part when and where convenient, e.g., during one's lunch hour or after work, at their place of employment or at home.
• Whereas, certain sessions may not normally allow time for questions or discussion, use of chat rooms allows presenters to answer questions during their pre-recorded lectures. Or, if a presentation is live, submission of questions simultaneously can be addressed afterward, thereby enhancing the content. The advantage of attaching Q&A to presentations is abundantly evident as utilized in the ICS Live videos.
• Networking can actually be facilitated by connecting via the chat rooms or by virtue of viewing presentations by individuals previously unknown but who share a common interest or who provide inspiration leading to a collaboration or other mutually beneficial relationship. One cannot attend every presentation at a typical live meeting, but a virtual meeting can be viewed in its entirety, and all presenters and attendees are available to each other for communication.
• Further, for the shy among us who have trouble networking in person, there is the phenomenon known as the "online disinhibition effect" – people feel safer and are emboldened to approach others because of the physical distance and relative invisibility of internet communication. This does not, however, excuse rudeness, disrespectful comments or inappropriate language. Behind every computer is a colleague who deserves considerate treatment.
In these challenging times, the simplicity of attending a virtual meeting may be one of the greatest virtues of ICS 2020 Online. With live educational activities on lock-down, the ICS hopes to provide an outstanding programme of state-of-the art educational and scientific content and best practice updates to distract from the pandemic restrictions and provide the intellectual and social stimulation of a high-quality, well-designed and well-presented meeting to which ICS members and delegates are accustomed. Making it a virtual experience allows everyone to take it all in in as stress-free and comfortable an environment as possible. So, please, grab a cup of coffee, a bottle of beer or a glass of wine and join the "ICS family" as we all learn together. And, remember, NO masks required!