This excellent piece in the Guardian makes me want to read several of this guy’s books, but this paragraph in particular pretty much encompasses why I feel it’s important to go to conferences:
What all this means, in practical terms, is that the best way to encourage (or to have) new ideas isn’t to fetishise the “spark of genius”, to retreat to a mountain cabin in order to “be creative”, or to blabber interminably about “blue-sky”, “out-of-the-box” thinking. Rather, it’s to expand the range of your possible next moves – the perimeter of your potential – by exposing yourself to as much serendipity, as much argument and conversation, as many rival and related ideas as possible; to borrow, to repurpose, to recombine. This is one way of explaining the creativity generated by cities, by Europe’s 17th-century coffee-houses, and by the internet. Good ideas happen in networks; in one rather brain-bending sense, you could even say that “good ideas are networks”. Or as Johnson also puts it: “Chance favours the connected mind.”
There are people who believe that the only purpose of conferences is to market oneself, but I think that’s a bad way to look at it. I think the people who only go to APA and only go when they’re on the market are missing the main point: even if Classics is one of the few disciplines that really can happen in a vacuum, if you’re smart enough and your library is big enough, Classics is better when we are networking. Our ideas are richer, more varied, and just better when they happen in our community, when they are exposed to the light of day long before they’re ever written down. The “only purpose of conferences is marketing” people also miss out on smaller conferences, which, even discounting the enjoyment of presenting at a smaller, more intimate regional conference, provide as many opportunities for meeting new people and talking about new things as larger conferences do, and often allow you to make connections with people near you geographically that you otherwise might not encounter.
Also, conference-going allows us to get lots of important drinking done. Never discount the importance of drinking.