What 24 Hours Without a Phone Taught this Millennial about Networking at a Conference

I came to San Diego with a plan. I’d start each morning with an iced chai latte from Starbucks, walk to the sessions, sit at exactly the 5th seat in from the end of the row (no one REALLY wants to sit right next to each other, so once seat 3 is taken, you’re in the clear), and finish up my day with the best tacos I’d ever tasted. That was how this introvert was going navigate her way through a conference of 6,000 people. And then my phone died, and I mean dead.


What 24 Hours Without a Phone Taught This Millennial about Networking at a Conference

Written by: Tara Luther, Promega



Over and over, my phone reset itself, and each time that little apple popped up on the black screen, my heart sank a little more. My colleagues noticed my wide eyes and the sweat starting to gather at my brow over dinner and reassured me that one could survive without a phone, but they were unable to curb my panic. “This phone is my boarding pass home,” I yelped. “You know you can print those,” they replied. While I wasn’t convinced, I decided that my dead phone could be dealt with when I was back in my hotel room and shouldn’t ruin my taco experience.


Back in my room, I reasoned with myself, “this phone was only a few months old. Maybe it just ran out of juice and needed to charge.” I quickly plugged it in and brought up Google on my tablet (because no millennial travels with just one device). It wasn’t looking like I was going to find a solution at 9:00 at night, so I satisfied myself by making an appointment at the Apple Store for the following day and got ready for bed.


Then I had a realization that startled me awake, and I’m not proud of it, but I also know I’m not alone – I hadn’t been able to post to Instagram yet that day! How would the world know that it was a rainy day in San Diego if I wasn’t able to provide them with a perfectly cropped image of a soggy palm tree with the Lark filter applied at 70%? What if I was losing followers by the second? It was then that I had a moment of clarity – I had a bigger problem than a dead phone.


I woke in the morning ready to start the day. “It would only be a few phoneless hours”, I told myself. “We could do this!” And then I got to the convention center and in a sea of 6,000 people, I was alone. What I failed to mention earlier was that I was attending a social media conference, and people were glued to their devices like it was their job, because, well, it likely was.


A few hours later, I was parked at a wooden high-top table with three other people who were just like me, and this introvert had two choices. I could either stare at my hands like they were the most interesting things in the world, or I could talk with those around me (I think extroverts call this ‘networking’).


The man seated next to me had brought his pug in the store with him (apparently you can do that in San Diego), so he seemed like a guy I should get to know, if for no other reason than it would then be acceptable to pet his dog. As I talked with him and those around us, I realized that we were all in the same situation.


There, at the Apple Store, I had found a community. I learned where they were from, what their interests were, where their children lived, how they came to be in San Diego, how affordable it was to live in San Diego (the consensus was not very), and even found a few others from the Midwest. I’m a millennial who has had social media accounts since Facebook only consisted of college students and have been told to “find my tribe” online on more than a few occasions. Oddly enough, I found ‘my tribe’ offline at an Apple Store.


I left that store with a new plan. I’d go back to the social media conference and would be social. Not just online, but to those around me. I’ll admit I didn’t talk to everyone I saw, but I didn’t shy away from human contact either. I offered advice to first timers, and met those who had travelled much further than I. I took away more from the conference than I would have if I’d stuck to the original plan.



Where will Networking Take You?
A serendipitous quote seen on the window later that day. Where will networking take you?



Many of you reading this also attend conferences (I hope to see you at ISHI this September), so I’ll leave you with two pieces of advice. One, always get the Apple Care plan, because you never know when you’ll need it, and two, avoid the urge to check your phone between sessions and talk with those around you instead. Maybe they’re also struggling with how to implement probabilistic genotyping, or maybe they’re nervous about testifying on probabilistic genotyping like you are, or maybe they’ve testified so many times they can offer a few pointers. You never know what you may learn.


Here’s my challenge to you. If you come to ISHI, make a goal of meeting at least two new people around you. Then, come find me at the registration desk and tell me what you’ve learned, because this introvert needs to network more too.