Recently I went to a (very good) conference. As a number of us got off the train and waited near the platform for a ride, we immediately recognized each other as belonging to the same event, even though we had not met each other before. We were short and tall, male and female, and of varying races, but still we all had “that look”; I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider what that means.
It occurred to me that many conferences could try to be more diverse. No, I am not referring to gender or race or ethnicity, although that may be true as well. I am referring to personality types and life experiences. Perhaps each conference should have at least one or two people who are not driven to succeed, not the member of any elite group, and not assured of their standing in the world.
What then to select for? I wondered whether each conference ought not to invite a hitchhiker or two. Think about hitchhikers, at least as a group on average:
1. They are mobile and not so set in their ways. They do not evaluate everything in terms of its efficacy and productivity.
2. They are adventurous and willing to engage with strangers.
3. They have not sunk their assets into expensive homes or fancy cars.
4. They wish to see the world and have a minimum amount of restlessness, maybe more.
5. Superficially it may seem that hitchhikers are “stupider than average,” but I suspect relative to their demographics they are smarter than average.
6. They do not schedule their lives so very tightly.
7. Since the late 1970s, fewer people engage in hitchhiking, and this raises their intrinsic interest. They are trying to resurrect a dying form of social capital, still prevalent mainly in Cuba and Eastern Europe.
8. The groups skews male, but I wonder if any more so than conference attendees more generally.
Most of all, hitchhikers probably have some time to spare. Send out a car, and offer them a ride and a conference. Toss in $500 if need be. They still will be cheaper than reimbursing the travel costs for most of your guests. Furthermore, when it comes to “getting back,” they can, um…hitch a ride.
If you wish, give them the right to shout out “You must be on drugs!’ or “I wouldn’t give you a ride!” at least once each conference, without fear of being ejected or otherwise shamed.
Again, here is a video on hitchhikers. They are perhaps the least likely guests to complain about the conference accommodations.