Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Convention '16

It had been three years since I attended the annual AAA (American Academy of Audiology) convention.  That was in Anaheim, CA.  Since then coverage at work has been very hard to come by.  Much to my disappointment, I missed meetings in Boston and San Antonio.  Orlando, too, but, eh....This year I was determined to go as it was in Phoenix.  I had never been to Arizona.  As for Denver several years ago, I planned some vacation days as a prelude to the meeting.  And what an amazing trip, but you'll read about that later.

I've written about the AAA convention before.  Much about it has changed, but the real metamorphosis was perhaps within myself. I had become jaded, not so easily impressed.   As I wandered the convention center in downtown Phoenix, I recalled the first few times I attended, as a student.  It was a very exciting, wide eyed time, especially my first, in Washington D.C. in 2005. It was all new, sure, but there was a certain formality and professionalism about everything that made me proud to be part.  CSPAN even featured the opening night gala on its network. The lectures were top notch, though many of them sailed over my head as my audiology (especially Ph.D. level research) knowledge was just budding.  Things were fun, too, as noise cancelling headphones and iPods were regularly given away.  The hearing aid manufacturers threw lavish parties and concerts.

That all changed a few years back.  No more gifts or Huey Lewis shows. One of the biggest companies pulled out of participating on the Expo Floor.  This year, a few more followed. One rep. explained that it was becoming too expensive.  Too many conventioneers were not buying/committing to buy devices but rather were merely rushing the booth for those coveted free passes to parties. The party ended.

Well, not entirely.  Another big manufacturer still had a Thursday night bash.  At a dude ranch outside of Phoenix in a town called Laveen.  A mariachi band greeted us as we stepped off the bus.  There were indoor and outdoor concerts, mainly country music. In the back field, potbellied pigs had a race.  There was a mechanical bull (which looked easier to navigate than the one in URBAN COWBOY) off to the side. Even a rodeo.  Good Mexican food and Corona beer were plentiful.  Later, bonfires were lit for smores.  The warm, dry Arizona air was fresh.  My wife joined me to reunite with old classmates and the company rep. who is one of the sweetest you'll meet.

The day sessions I attended were overall, quite good.  Luminaries in the field spoke of the importance of considering cardiac physiology when diagnosing hearing and balance issues.  Others made the case to re-examine diagnostic tests such as the acoustic reflex (to be featured in a future "Your Audiology Tutorial" entry) in our daily batteries. I listened to a few industry talks, including one taking a different approach  to tinnitus management via sound therapy.  It raised many questions, but sounded favorable.  Whoever finally cures tinnitus will win the Nobel Prize, or at least should.  Two ladies with whom I graduated did presentations for their respective employers as well.

There was one talk on misophonia that was, well, the less said the better.  I almost walked out.  Someone really needed to proofread those slides.  And no, you don't get a pass because English is your second (or third) language.

But the thrill, as they've said, was gone.  Everything felt, well, tired. And what happened to the Trivia Bowl? An end of convention tradition where teams with funny (sometimes risque) audiology related names answer really arcane questions about the field?

Seeing old familiar faces is always fun, but even many of them have been reduced to a few polite exchanges.  We used to have real discussions! Ah, life.  It happens.  There was one reunion with a dear friend that was more than just a few smiles and stale memories.  My wife and I got to spend some quality time with her at the dude ranch and dinner the following evening at a decent place called The Arrogant Butcher.

A plug was made for next year's event in Indianapolis.  They promised a "fresh perspective", really touted it as something new.  Perhaps even the organizers have sensed the malaise.  We'll see.  Although, I'm holding out for Nashville in 2018.
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