3 Highlights from the 2009 EAC Conference

I spent last weekend mingling with 200 or so other editors at the Editors’ Association of Canada’s 2009 conference. It’s very rare that you’d find so many of us in one place  since editors on the whole tend toward being a retiring lot. Our solitary toiling over thick manuscripts and flickering computer screens doesn’t always help us to get out and about much, either. But for a few magic days downtown Toronto was inundated with delightfully persnickety logophiles.

I met many impressive people and attended many delightful talks last weekend, but in the interests of keeping a short story only medium long, I’m going to give you succinct overviews of my three favourite presentations:

  1. James Harbeck, the multitalented editor and linguist, asked and answered the question every spelling-bee contestant, ESL student, and frankly every speaker of the English language has asked at least once: “What’s up with English spelling?”
    Seriously, as much as I foolishly love its baffling idiosyncracies, the English language really is an M.C. Escher stairwell of a language. If you’re at all curious about how Dutch scribes, the alphabet, Jonathan Swift, regional dialects,  revolutions, dictionaries, great vowel shifts, and, of course, the French have monkeyed with English spelling, I recommend  you head to James’s blog where you’ll find a complete transcript of his excellent presentation. (And while you’re there don’t miss his word tasting notes—they’ll make you want a heaping plate of words for dinner tonight.)
  2. Andrea Zanin, freelance editor and professional sex geek, presented “Sexing the Language: Editing for Sexual Minorities” to help editors (1) engage respectfully and accurately with the continuously shifting vernacular used by diverse groups of sexual minorities and (2) recognize and eliminate biased and loaded expressions and assumptions about sexual minorities.
    I can’t possibly summarize the breadth of information in her talk here, nor match her presentation’s energy, so instead I will repeat the 3 guiding rules she provided us: be respectful, be accurate, and, whenever you don’t know if the language you’re using is respectful and accurate, just ask for Pete’s sake.
    Here’s a link to a great article by Andrea: “hello, sir—i mean, ma’am”: trans etiquette for dummies. Check it out!
  3. Nora Young, host of CBC’s Spark and keynote speaker extraordinaire, spoke to us about ethics in the quickly changing landscape of communication technology. She compared the cultural shift occasioned by web 2.0 technology to the advent of direct-dial phone calls.
    Just as pioneer phonecallers once had to give some serious thought about how they would announce themselves to the person answering their call—should I say hello or ahoy?—Nora argues that we as pioneering web 2.0 users are having to think hard about how we use and communicate information on the web.
    While the internet signals the end of information scarcity (at least for those of us with access to it), she asks us, what is the quality of that information? How carefully do we evaluate it’s accuracy? And to what extent are we exposed to information that challenges our assumptions when we gravitate to the news and views we want to read?
    Nora challenged to us to participate in creating online relationships and content that allow readers see the inner workings of content creation and to contribute themselves—the very essence of web 2.0. Yet, and perhaps more importantly, she also challenges us to strive in this work for “balanced collaboration complemented by an individual depth of research.” The lure of surveying only the most appealing or readily available sources is strong, but deeper and more extensive research is crucial for making the internet a reliable and flexible source of information.
    Although information is no longer scarce, it is still suspect. Facts may no longer be fixed and true; they may instead be “fluid and true for now,” but this means that we must be more vigilant about the accuracy and relevance of the information we create, disseminate, and accept as true, not less so. And so, Nora argues, like those phone-dialing pioneers of yore, we too are choosing how it is that we announce ourselves online: “Hello or Ahoy?”
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