Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Why do webinars always suck?

I've endured my fair share of webinars over the last few years, and anticipate enduring far more in the years to come. They're the poor man's version of travel, and in these budgetary times, there's something to be said for that. Given the ratio of filler-to-content in the average conference presentation, webinars seem like a reasonable bargain. And given both ever-improving technology and the increasing tech-savviness of the academic population, you'd expect webinars to be pretty good by now.

Yet they're always, without exception, horrible. They seem to want to be 'interactive,' but they somehow combine the worst of PowerPoint with bad audio, time delays, and a complete indifference to audience. After all the technical advances of the last thirty years, they remind me of nothing as much as those awful 16mm movies we used to watch in school -- the ones where the sprockets melted, the music got all stretchy, and kaleidoscopes stood in for drugs. If you're my age, you know the ones. Yes, you do.

Back in the 90's, there was a short-lived cartoon show called The Critic, in which Jon Lovitz voiced a movie critic who was a sort of dyspeptic Roger Ebert. In my favorite moment of the entire series, The Critic reviewed a movie he hated simply by listing diseases he'd rather have than sit through that movie again. I've replayed that monologue in my head many times while waiting for a webinar to lurch into its tar pit to die.

I don't think it's impatience on my part. I'm an academic administrator; if I hadn't built impressive boredom calluses by now, I would never have made it. I've listened to faculty emeriti tell war stories from nineteen-ought-six; I've stood in subfreezing weather for a solid hour listening to multiple politicians declare that they'd be remiss if they didn't thank still more people; I've parsed mission statements and outcomes assessment reports. I listen to NPR economics podcasts while working out. Last weekend I took The Boy and his friend to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I stayed awake the entire time. Mere mortals tremble at the levels of boredom I tolerate on a daily basis. And yet webinars break me on a regular basis.

Every time I sit through a webinar, I feel my will to live start to flag. What little life force I have left is briefly channeled into worryingly baroque revenge fantasies.

My wise and worldly readers, I have no answers, so I look to you to solve the mystery. Why do webinars always suck?