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From the President | Vic Sparrow
The Acoustical Society of America and Communica- tion: It’s Not 1929 Anymore!
When the Acoustical Soci- ety of America (ASA) was founded in 1929, the trans- portation and communication infrastructures were very dif-
ferent. The founders of the ASA wanted a dynamic scientific and practical society with a journal and regular meetings. These ideals have not changed! But the meetings and communication between meetings were limited by the resources available at the time. And the ASA is still transitioning to the way most scien- tific and technical organizations operate today compared with how it did for most of the twentieth century.
Let’s first discuss the meeting themselves because that is where ASA participants do the most communicating. In the 1930s and for decades afterward, the most common transportation to the ASA meetings was by train. Widespread adoption of air travel wouldn’t begin until the late 1950s and early 1960s. The current meeting format, two meetings a year, was adopted so that twice a year people could come and go via trains, which could take as much as two days across the United States. This also explains
why all the ASA committee activities were centered at the meet- ings themselves. Satellite meetings between the main meetings weren’t practical because the travel time would be too long to allow for such meetings.
Speaking of communication between meetings, long-distance telephone charges were substantial until the deregulation of the telephone industry in the United States in the early 1980s, when it became possible for ASA members to call each other at a greatly reduced cost. But the model for meetings and committee structures had already been set, and for the most part, the ASA is a two meeting per year organization. Only in recent years have inexpensive teleconferences and Internet software such as Skype, WebEx, GotoMeeting, and Zoom been able to bring members together. More on that in a moment.
Our journal, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA), is the preeminent journal for acoustics in the world. But its primary function is to disseminate published research results, and it never has been the best place for anything other than journal articles and documenting the recorded history of the ASA. So, the ASA tried to bridge that gap with the newsletter
Echoes (now a part of history but excellent for its intended pur- pose and available until 2013; see
Now we have an excellent magazine, Acoustics Today (AT; AT, besides providing interesting articles on various topics of acoustics that are written so that they can be read by all members, helps members get to know about activities in the Society, and it also stands as a great on-ramp for those outside the ASA to get to know us and see what we do. In AT, you can hear from the current president and others to give you a glimpse of contemporary topics ongoing in the Society, for example, the article you are reading now. At the same time, AT is not a “news” magazine and only has limited coverage of ASA activities, mostly focusing on broad issues such as introducing members to the “big picture” roles of committees and technical committees.
The ASA also communicates with members through its email, through its website (, and via social media outlets. Email is a delicate balance because with too few emails, members feel they are not in the know. And members simply ignore too many emails. And there are some busy members who just don’t respond well to email, period!
The ASA website has undergone a number of revisions, and it’s mostly a repository of information that both ASA members and outsiders go to learn what is going on in the Society. So, keeping the repository up-to-date is important, but it has never been a great vehicle for two-way dialog.
The social media outlets are also great for sending out news from the “top down,” but only a fraction of ASA members sub- scribe to them. It’s much more effective for younger members who are more likely to subscribe. Across all of these outlets for information (email, web page, and social media), there is little to no coordination and consistency and that should be improved.
How can the ASA do better? How can ASA members be more involved and engaged year-round? There are lot of ideas floating around ASA headquarters, the Executive Council (EC), and the Technical Council (and we always welcome ideas from mem- bers as well; please drop me a note with any thoughts you might have to improve the ASA). We will talk more about the new task forces formed at the ASA Louisville meeting in a future column, but one of those new task forces focuses on “Improved Commu- nications and Public Relations.” One concept being discussed is whether the ASA needs a communication strategist to look at
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