The cavernous warehouse at Theo Chocolates was draped in black, lit by strings of lights crisscrossing the room along with a handful of vaguely gothic chandeliers. We sat on gilded chairs. A sea of white roses leftover from a wedding held in the place on Friday night may have lent a gentle floral bouquet, but who could tell over the scent an endless parade of amazing food ranging from Top Pot donuts to Skillet’s blue cheese hamburgers to sous vide salmon to vats of red wine.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock encouraged everyone to extend their blogs to offline events as a way to build community. James Oseland of Saveur confessed his addiction to food blogs. Debate arose on whether or not to give recipes away for use in books or use by companies. The incomparable Penny de los Santos inspired everyone with the way she lived life passionately behind a camera lens.
But what struck me most was the delicate fury that Twitter had on the proceedings. People greeted strangers they recognized from their Twitter photos. A steady clacking on keyboards and phones made up a kind of back beat as everyone “aggressively” tweeted the events. The blog BringtoBoil artfully describes the air during a session that I taught on writing with all five senses.
“My fellow participants shared aloud some gorgeous, evocative descriptions of these lemons. Kathleen wasn’t afraid to point out places where the descriptions bordered on erotic, even beyond the navels, protrusions, juices, and nipples. Because so many people in the room were already in mind-meld mode, the sexual tension in the room was palpable. Reminder: we were writing about lemons.”
I could feel that on stage, too. Within the space of a few hours, the ubiquity of Twitter helped to develop a collective mindset. As a speaker, you normally look for physical cues from the audience; it’s difficult to tell what’s happening as everyone types intently, the light of screens reflecting expressionless faces. More than once, the audience laughed in unison at a silent joke. Penny de los Santos got a deserved standing ovation, but she almost didn’t need one since half of the room had already Twittered they were in love with her. (I’m fairly sure that I was one of them.)
In the past, I’ve left conferences in a daze, just trying to remember the names, faces and what was said. But when you go to a conference with 250 bloggers, you can locate reports on everything from what was in the swag bag to what people thought of the opening reception to a detailed list of food served to Publisher’s Weekly take on the event to a personal account of what one individual took away from the experience — all announced on Twitter. The ability to relive the experience, not to mention see it from different perspectives, made it all the more powerful.
Most people don’t realize that I’ve been writing about the online world since 1993. I edited a magazine called Internet Underground in 1995-96, before I went on to work as an online editor for Microsoft until 2003. Twitter is often described as “passing notes in class,” and the concept of doing this online while gathered physically at an event isn’t exactly new. I remember a 2001 meeting at Microsoft where a huge group of people connected online via MSN Messenger, mocking and debating the various ideas offered in the heavily stage-crafted presentations.
But we were tech world geeks. The folks at IFBC were food lovers from all manner of backgrounds. Yet, technology managed to bring them together as one in the form of a sometimes lusty, snarky, observant, charitable, feisty, bored or inspired beast.
As one Twitterer noted at some point in the weekend: “So funny, people keep tweeting just what I’m thinking as I’m thinking it! #ifbc.” Exactly.