ASCII by Jason Scott

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The Parties I Missed and the Parties I Didn’t —

It’s hard not to browse over the attendee list for Foo Camp and not feel sad that I couldn’t dip in and out of crowds of those folks. Some of them I heavily disagree with, some of them I worship from afar, but there’s no question that a goulash of them in a non-commercialized space is likely a wonder to behold. What great ideas might be reverberating from that event as we speak!

It reminds me a lot of another great party I wasn’t invited to, the Apple II Reunion hosted by John Romero in October of 1998. Information about this party is mostly buried away, but the attendees included Chuckles, The Fat Man, Lord British, Jordan Mechner, Bill Budge, Dan Gorlin, and The Woz. Just knowing these folks got to spend an evening together makes me happy indeed, on principle.

These sorts of events happen a lot, actually, depending on who you look up to and what floats your nostalgic/cutting-edge boat. For example, anyone who has ever lost a weekend with an Atari Joystick or hit their head against a particularly difficult puzzle in an adventure game would likely be in heaven at the Classic Gaming Expo. The Vintage Computer Festivals bring along their share of luminaries and infamy, as do the myriad hacker conventions that pepper the landscape. I’ll leave the debate about the purpose and concept behind “hacker conventions” for some other time, but I can say that I happen to enjoy attending (and speaking at) them very much. Here’s a hint: treat them like parties instead of paradigm-changing resume-boosters.

What really confuses me is the perception that people who own computers or at least delve into them intensively eschew parties, meetings or other social gatherings for the percieved safety and distance of online. Even the most extreme cases want a place where they belong and where they can ask things rapid-fire of a group of others like themselves, so any announced gathering interests them. And those extreme cases are just that: extreme. You can’t discount the importance of reality to the inhabitants of the online world, and shoving people into some sort of freak box does nobody a favor, including yourself.

Having an event be invitation-only and then not getting invited is always a downer. It’s probably not you; it’s just that invitations depend by nature on the right webs of knowledge and trust, and if you’re not in the one that drives the event, then you’re not getting in no matter how much you might deserve to. The solution is simple: Build your own massive web of trust, and then wait for the cross-links to make your world a richer place.

I was lucky enough to get over to NAID (North American International Demoparty) in 1996, but missed Pilgrimage in 2003. Demoparties, those insane gatherings of computer people and what-have-you over a weekend are rather rare in the United States, mostly owing to insurance concerns. They’re not invitation-only, but that’s not important; the goal is that anyone with some talent, knowledge or ability throws their hat into the ring, maybe they compete at something, and otherwise make a name for themselves. I am hoping that with BBS Documentary DVDs in hand and knapsack, I will make my way across a bunch of them in the coming year or two and meet a lot of people and see a lot of wonderous things.

Many times, when you’re at an event, you don’t really feel like it’s anything special other than a good time (or a not so good time). It’s only with the addition of years that you start to look back and get that perspective to realize that the folks who were starting out at those get-togethers have gone on to great things. You never know where the next mad geniuses and media-gravitating superstars will come from; that’s the magic of it. Maybe you’ll be with friends or your children years from now, mentioning you sat at a bar next to the guy who made the next big thing. In other words, don’t despair at your position on the arbitrary totem pole of now; if you truly care about such things (knowing you’re friends with the best and brightest, as opposed to the most visible) then energy expended meeting people and communicating with them will come back ten-fold.

People, after all, are what make the whole thing memorable. Machines are machines, but it’s the people who turn a LAN into a LAN Party.

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