Phenomenacon 2020

In May, 2020, I was very pleased to be a speaker at Phenomenacon, an online paranormal convention put on by Greg and Dana Newkirk of the Traveling Museum of the Paranormal and, of course, of Hellier. My talk was a broad overview of UFO culture and it’s intersection with American history and society–a bit of an anomaly in a weekend that leaned more toward the paranormal and the occult aspects of things but I’m hopeful that people found it interesting! Personal highlights for me were hearing from Timothy Renner and Joshua Cutchin, each giving separate talks but both making me anticipate reading their new book, Where the Footprints End more than I already was. The Hellier cast/crew roundtable was excellent, as was John E.L. Tenney’s talk on conspiracy theory culture. For me, the biggest pleasant surprise was Amy Bruni’s talk on historical research in ghost hunting. I’m not much of a ghost guy, but I found her talk engaging and very sound from the perspective of needing to separate facts from lore when investigating events.

But most interesting to me was seeing that an online convention of this kind seemed to work very smoothly. I’ve been interested in this sort of thing for a while–particularly with so much teaching moving online due to public health concerns here in 2020–so I decided to go through the process of paying my money and being an attendee as well as a speaker. I was amazed at how well the event was run, just from a technical viewpoint. I could count the hiccups on one hand. Given that the event was streaming for 7 or 8 hours a night, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday is quite a feat. It also gave me an opportunity to read the comments by attendees and I was struck by something that I should have known (and, on some level, probably did):

Now that the technology is solid, I can see events like this becoming more and more common. Let’s leave out the public health concerns and look at some benefits.

  • Overhead/profit margin: I don’t know the technology/streaming costs involved but I’m 99% sure it was cheaper than renting a venue, paying required fees and insurance, and paying travel for speakers. Paying audio techs, video techs, all of that is eliminated.
  • A broader reach: Basically, the potential crowd is anyone on the planet. Apart from time zones, geography is not much of a barrier to attending. And, related to that
  • I was struck by the number of people in the comments who had never attended a paranormal convention. Then, I realized that I’d only been to a handful and only one of them as an attendee rather than a speaker. There’ve been opportunities but cost, travel, and scheduling often trump my desire to attend. Not to mention times I’ve lived in places where attending such events would have meant having to fly.  What Phenomenacon (and other online cons) are able to do is bring these events to a wholly new segment of the paranormal community for whom traditional in person conventions are out of reach.

So just some thoughts, there. I think it went very well, the online attendees seemed thrilled with what they experienced. I hope there are more Phenomenacons in our future, and I hope others make the attempt to move in this direction; not necessarily because there’s a global pandemic, but because Phenomenacon proved that there is a market for such a thing, that it is very doable from a technological standpoint, and that high quality* presenters are wiling and able to do their thing remotely.

I look forward to seeing how this idea develops in the future, and I’d also like to thank Greg and Dana for inviting me to take part.

*Not me, obviously. I’m solidly “hey, that wasn’t too bad!” level and working my way up to high quality!