Grant, I agree with a lot that you said, but want to play the Devil's Advocate in this response.
Like you, I am an introvert, in that I prefer to work alone. Indeed, I'm very much hoping that I won't have to return to the office. I'd much rather work from home where I have far fewer interruptions and distractions, than I have in the office. But I also love going to conferences to participate and meet with people. I helped started two .NET user groups in my area. Perhaps I'm an omnivert/ambivert. Anyway, I've experienced the benefit of meeting with people at conferences. I've learned how valuable that can be. In my previous job I worked for a university. Universities don't pay well, but they understand the value of learning and training. I got lots of both while working for the university, for which I am very thankful. Unless our budget was exceedingly tight, everyone in IT got to go to a conference once a year.
Unfortunately, that situation ended and everyone in the group I was a part of was eventually laid off. Now I work for one of the largest state departments in my state. This department has a history of not sending any IT person (I mean both operations and developers in this case) to any conference or training for decades. I don't know all the reasons why this is, but they say it's budget is one of the highest reasons to not send anyone, anywhere. OK, but it seems odd to me that a state department could employ thousands of people, hiring hundreds each year and not afford to send someone to a conference at least every once and a while. I just don't think they've had any priority on keeping people's skills up to date, at least for a very long time. The result of no one going anywhere to a conference or training of any sort is that people have more than a fear of anything new. I'd use the word "terror". That loathsome feeling one gets where their guys are tied up in knots, so afraid of trying or doing anything new that it debilitates them to consider it. Therefore, an excuse of not even having a chance to go to a conference turned out to be a convenient crutch.
However, the COVID-19 induced pandemic has made it possible to attend many conferences for free, virtually. Anyone could attend one of these conferences for free from the comfort of their home. So, even if they experienced terrors of something new, at least it was in an environment that was familiar. And some of my colleagues took advantage of that. So, although virtual conferences do miss out on things that in-person conferences have, it's a darn sight better than no conferences of any sort at all.
And for that matter, even going to an in-person conference doesn't mean that everyone will have the opportunity to gain from an in-person conference equally. For example, in my current position I advocated for three years to go to Microsoft Ignite. To my surprise, my current employer agreed to letting me go to MS Ignite in 2019. (Perhaps this shows a change in their attitude towards letting people attend conferences and gain new skills. I certainly hope that's the case.) I went to Ignite that year and had a good time, met lots of new people. But later I found that a podcaster I know personally attended a dinner with other people I'd loved to have met with one evening during the conference. I certainly would have liked to have been invited to that dinner, but I wasn't. I really like this podcaster, but I'll say that I had that awful feeling one got in high school when you learn you're not one of the "cool kids". In-person conferences can have that negative impact upon people, too, Grant.
Kindest Regards, Rod Connect with me on LinkedIn.