As a software engineer I can’t help but use version numbers. Just my natural way of looking at things. As #TAM2014 moves closer and closer, I’m getting more excited about attending but I’m also looking back at the old TAM’s to observe and appreciate the change. My arbitrary break points for the different versions are my opinions only, but I do think they align roughly correct. Of course, I would love to hear from other people!
TAM 1.0: TAM 1
The first one! Obviously, this one holds a special place because it was the first one, oh, and I was there! I had a great time, socialized just a tiny bit, and suffered a freak injury. I sat in a position for so long without moving, I pinched off the blood supply to a nerve in my leg, and ended up minor nerve damage. For years it was a struggle to curl my toes, but that seems to be a non-issue these days. This minor affliction is a weird, constant reminder of that first conference. The Columbia Disaster happened while I was there (it was held in Florida), I got to meet James Randi, and I came home completely energized, a feeling that continues to happen even today.
TAM 2.0: TAM 4
I was unable to attend TAM 2 and TAM 3, so this demarcation of 2.0 of when I could attend seems self serving. However, I looked a lot at the different TAMs for this. Looking at attendance numbers, speaker lists, and venue TAM 4 seems to be the conference that signified TAM was here to stay. Over 800 people attended, and it was the second year in a row that TAM was at the now demolished Stardust Hotel & Casino. This feels and looks like a conference that had taken root for good. Since this is the most arbitrary of my three versions, this is one I would love to hear more opinions on.
TAM 3.0 TAM 2012
While some might say 2011 was the “break” from the past, I think it’s 2012 and I view this “break” to be the best thing that ever happened to TAM. The audience seems to have expanded, and the goals appear to be clearer and more focused. There was a push, that so far has been resisted, to align the JREF/skepticism with American progressive political values, but that seems to be on the wane in terms of effectiveness. Later in 2012, “Atheism+” attempted to fill that space (I know skepticism != atheism, but not everyone knows that), but it has completely failed to gain any traction. Meanwhile, JREF and TAM remain strong.
There have been some losses along the way, of which I’m not sure how to evaluate yet. As has been pointed out by many, Phil Plait has pretty much stopped talking about skepticism and seems to focus on astronomy on his blog, and name checking on Twitter. Hal Bidlack, who I will never forget handling the Columbia Disaster at TAM 1, has dropped out after being the emcee for so many years at TAM. There are faces, whose names I don’t know, that I haven’t seen in TAM in a few years.
This is probably the way it always happens in any endeavor like TAM. This year, I’ve heard, that registration was up for TAM over last year. The audience has expanded. Having constant leadership at the JREF for the last few years hasn’t always seemed like a blessing, but I think we’re seeing the results of constant leadership that stays true to a core set of values, as opposed to taking a poll. There are already enough organizations willing and ready to take on various political and social justice issues, but not nearly enough skeptic organizations. Keeping the JREF on mission has been a huge boon, and we should all thank DJ Grothe for that.
Who knows what TAM 4.0 will look like, but I do expect to be around!