I am about to go to the meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature, Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars, Institute for Biblical Research, etc. in Atlanta. Why would one fly a distance to live in an hotel in the center of a city and roam with 8000 or so other scholars?
There are the papers that I will hear read, which will give me new information and new perspectives, but they are rarely the main benefit. Perhaps they were when I was younger. The ideas that are worth the most are later found in journals. I think that the main purpose is personal contact. Through the networking one gets involved in new projects, learns of new ideas, builds relationships that will bear fruit later, identifies oneself as an involved scholar, and even receives new job offers (or looks for new recruits, if one has jobs to offer). This cannot be done through email or video conferencing or the like. It needs to be done in person. It is the personal that is the reason for these conferences, and the academic papers are the framework in which that happens.