ASCII by Jason Scott

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ROFLcon (After) —

OK, in a word: ROFLcon was fantastic.

Many other words come to mind: Perfection. Delight. Surprise. Thrills. Variety. Triumph. Every positive adjective I can think of, superlative words on the bottom of my bag that have not seen the light of day in many months, come out with fervor and stick to ROFLcon’s side with no ill fit. This was a special, special event and I am so very lucky to have been a part of it.

Like many ideas, it came in a flash and with a lot of scratching of heads and skeptical eyebrow raisings. I don’t pretend not to have been part of that contingency. In fact, I was likely a leading candidate for Grand Poobah of Doubt. Asked to help organize the event, I spied some of the mailing list and quickly retreated from any administration or backstage duties, fearful of the time sink and resulting disaster tarring my jacket. I was left on the mailing list for the administrators, however, and it was there I witnessed something quite inspiring indeed.

Over the months of planning, these kids (and they really are kids, barely in their twenties and a few of them not quite there) saw through barrier after barrier, secured many thousands of dollars in funding, called and cajoled and convinced attendees and speakers to play a part in the conference, and hatched something brilliant.

ROFLcon, to summarize, was lauded as a “conference of Internet memes”. Memes, in this case, mostly meant “celebrities”, and celebrity from actions and events more than positions or wealth. These were the kind of celebrities who could be summarized with a noun and a “guy” or “girl” appended at the end: Tron Guy. Sweater Girl. One Red Paperclip Guy. Chuck Norris Facts Guy. I Can Haz Cheezburger Guy. On and on, and over time this list grew quite large indeed.

The whole thing wrought large, actually; upon the weekend of this happening, hundreds had been joined up, either as attendees or speakers. These speakers included myself: I was asked to give a historical presentation, and my indifference to this assignment grew to heady anticipation as I saw what a gathering storm was occurring.

Slated for Harvard’s halls, the event grew so large it was moved to MIT, along several buildings. MIT organizations helped with space and logistics. The organizers reached out to other groups for promotional items, ads, printing, and artwork. It became very real.

Of the two days, Friday was a work day for me – I was one of the first presentations. My talk, “Before the LOL”, attempted to give an overview of the rise of cutesy little ideas being passed along for the hell of it, along with a sense of how human beings have always kind of acted the way they do online. I touched on some pretty out there subjects like slow-scan ham radio and office copier art. It pulled off very well and was well liked by the audience as far as I can tell. More details will come on my talk as it goes online and I assemble some related material about it.

The rest, however, was me just being awash in the fun. It is rare to be at an event where I am not just fascinated by the names on badges, but consistently amazed by them. Administrators of sites I use daily were next to artists I’d known for years. Old friends came out of the woodwork, while I made entirely new ones. I autographed items, and resisted the urge to ask for autographs myself.

Did I agree with everything said and every characterization of the ideas presented? Of course not. That’s not the point, to find like-minded folks to parrot to you everything you already knew. Echo chambers are not worth getting out of bed for. This was a place where certain things were assumed (we all use the Internet, we’ve all seen these famous things to various degrees), and what came next was a celebration of being alive while being online.

There are many writeups of the event, and many photos. People did their jobs of capturing this whole event and I feel quite redundant going into detail. But I will take note of several things.

First of all, there was a real vital sense of fun and joy throughout the event. It wasn’t “for” anything; not selling a product, introducing a new technology, forcing a hipness down our throats until we were dazed enough to sign up for whatever it was we needed to sign up for. It just was, like assembling a huge party of cool and smart people and just letting them go. I’ve been told the SXSW conference is like this, but SXSW sells stuff: bands, movies, books, products, technology. This just was, a celebration of people who spend time online walking around and basking in the joy of communication. I don’t see enough of that.

Second, an event like this is ripe, one might even say begging, for exploitation and cynicism. Writers whose job is to sneer at everything around them are also in abundance regarding this event. Like any other conference of folks assembled around a theme, it’s easy enough for someone to dash off a handful of cramped thoughts about being there, scarfing down the free pizza and checking their Blackberry for new calls, than it is to accept that there was something special there. There was. I felt it and throughout the weekend I was part of it.

Kudos to that gang, those people who worked so hard so near where I live so that I could have my horizons split wide and my circle of acquaintances bound in directions I’d have not dreamed possible.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Everything i read about this was great, and i liked the ‘highlight’ vid of your talk. Also, that Anonymous costume is insane.

  2. Willis says:

    I was sad that by the time I found out about ROFLcon it was already sold out, but I did watch a bit of it live online at uStream. “Before the LOL” is why I’ve now added this blog to my RSS reader – I really enjoyed it.