And Ceiling Cat said … Let there be LOLz!
ROFLcon 2010 brings international web celebs to M.I.T. - Toronto blogger Lauren O'Neil was there.
- Guest post
On Saturday night, I partied with the Internet in Boston. And then I ate it.
Much like the rest of my weekend, it was incredibly delicious and incredibly nerdy. Literally. It was vanilla ice cream with Nerds candy mixed in.
Nomming, an “Internet” flavoured ice cream cone, was amongst Internet superstars at the Massachusetts Internet of Technology. Er… Institute. I mean Institute. It was the perfect end to one heck of a road trip to Boston for ROFLcon 2010 - the second installment of the most epic internet culture conference ever assembled.
As the inclusion of the word “epic” in that sentence suggests, this was not just any internet culture conference. ROFLcon is THE internet culture conference.
Taking place for the first time in April 2008, the original ROFLcon brought more than 500 people (including 48 of the most notorious internet celebrities ever) together IRL for the purpose of discussing internet memes and the state of our beloved world wide webiverse.
The event was a major win all the way around, which is likely why organizers Tim Hwang and Christina Xu decided to do it all over again this year, hosting ROFLcon II at M.I.T. in Cambridge, MA on April 30 and May 1. The entire conference was straight up awesome in this humble blogger’s opinion.
I’m talking 950 of the world’s most dedicated producers and consumers of web hilarity hanging out together in meatspace for a whole weekend at one of the nation’s leading academic institutions. How could it be anything but?
An audience member at the keynote address put it well by posting a message to the real-time comment projection system on display at the front of the room that read “oh s..., the whole internet’s here.”
With a few notable exceptions (I can haz Old Gregg ? Epic Beard man? LITTLE SUPERSTAR?!?) said
commentator was pretty much right.
Looking around the room, I realized that I was facing a veritable who’s who of the meme-o-verse.
Uber-geeky internet kids like me were rubbing elbows with the creators of viral sensations like keyboard cat and texts from last night, big time academics, successful authors and bona fide digital super stars.
As is stated on the conference website, it was pretty much the most important gathering of humanity since the fall of the tower of Babel.
With people like icanhazcheezburger’s Ben Huh, I kiss you's Mahir Cagri, Picnicface’s Mark Little, and more than 50 other internet celebs in attendance, it can go without saying that mad LOLz were had in Cambridge.
But ROFLcon was more than just a “giant dorkfest” (as one of my “friends” so irritatingly put it.)
While there were plenty of shenanigans and random acts of awesomeness free waffles, ftw!) the amount of intelligent discourse surrounding digital community, memetic creativity, internet celebrity and the burgeoning attention economy surpassed even my greatest of nerdy expectations. Maybe the internet = serious business after all?
The conference kicked off at 1 p.m. on Friday with a keynote on “The Future of the World Weird Web” by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society’s Ethan Zuckerman and Microsoft Researcher (and Berkman fellow) danah boyd.
“It is of enormous geopolitical significance and importance that we build memes that Chinese people laugh at and vice versa,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical that we look for ways we’re all laughing at the same things. That’s where culture comes from. Shared reference and shared beliefs.”
Boyd’s talk touched on everything from marketers commercializing internet subcultures to a shift from the age of system hacking to an age of attention hacking.
“For most teens that I interview, things are so mainstream. They consume memes but they don’t think much of it. There are no hackers anymore, basically,” she said. “But there’s a similar mindset in social hacking. It’s no longer about hacking computers; it’s about hacking the attention economy.”
An established and highly regarded social media researcher, boyd also spoke about the implications of an internet originally dominated by “geeks, freaks and queers” becoming mainstream – a theme that was pervasive throughout almost all of the conference’s panels and sessions.
"What we have to ask is, what do we lose in this process? What are the economic possibilities of this? How much of the decisions we make are about becoming part of the mainstream and getting validated?”
Boyd’s questions weren’t the only ones raised. As enlightening and inspiring as ROFLcon was, I left Boston with more new questions than answers.
Is the web really going “mainstream”? And if so, is this a good thing or bad thing? If our parents, bosses, and the cool kids from high school invade our online subcultures, where will we - the freaks, geeks and weirdos - hang out?
What are the implications of a more commercialized web? What is selling out? What does all of this mean for future generations, politically and socially? What kind of cultural hacker am I?
Most importantly - how can I turn my blog into a book deal? (Step number one: Be very funny.)
With panels addressing everything from race on the internet (I can haz dream?) to extreme content (CAPSLOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR AWESOME) and the relationships between new and old media (BIG SRS BSNS: Internet Culture, Books, and TV; ROFLing the News), there was far too much said over the course of this conference for me to provide a comprehensive account of everything I learned in one blog post.
Fortunately, every session was live blogged by gracious volunteers. I highly recommend checking out the transcripts – they make for a most lolzy and informative read!
If you’ve only got the time to check out one of the panels, I suggest making it the Closing panel: “Mainstreaming the Web”. Moderated by Hwang and Xu, this panel featured Jamie Wilkinson & Kenyatta Cheese of Know Your Meme, Ben Huh of I Can Has Cheezburger, Greg Rutter of You Should Have Seen This, and the infamous moot from 4chan.
This panel wrapped the entire conference up nicely with some great discussion about the past, present and future of internet culture as we know it. It even got a little bit spicy! I found myself blurting out “OH SNAP!” more than a few times when moot was calling out Ben for making mega profits from user generated content. All in good humour of course – the boys kept it friendly.
The single most re-Tweeted line (and you’d better believe we were tweeting up a storm all weekend long) from the entire conference also came out of the closing panel:
“Facebook has become like AOL, it’s like training wheels for the internet. It’s a safe place, except for your privacy.” - Ben Huh
I don’t think there was a soul in the building who didn’t at least crack a smile at that moment. I myself let out a quiet “tell it, brother!” amidst the chorus of whoops and clappage.
There was a lot of buzz by the end of the conference about ROFLCon becoming the next Comic Con in the sense that it could grow from humble beginnings to achieve international acclaim and recognition.
I can see it happening.
Something about the energy in that room during the closing panel made me feel like I was witnessing something pretty important – and I wasn’t just buzzing from a pistachio muffin overload.
Like boyd said, it’s not just the freaks and geeks inhabiting web 2.0. These days, more and more aspects of the average person’s life have gone digital. The internet is no longer merely a tool for quick communication and finding information – it’s become a social and cultural domain of its own.
As more people begin to navigate and understand the many online cultures that exist outside the confines of Facebook and Twitter, one would hope that more people will want to come together and celebrate them IRL.
I’m going to end this post the same way that moot ended the closing panel. With one seriously dope ROFLcopter.
*All images used licensed under a Creative Commons license, courtesy of the ROFLcon 2010 flickr photo pool.
Lauren O’Neil is a very recent grad in the Master of Arts - Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario. She currently produces digital media content for outlets like MuchMusic.com, CanadianLiving.com, Rabble.ca, TheTyee.ca, and Western News. She is rarely, if ever, spotted without a pink Blackberry in her hand and is fluent in both HTML and English. Please follow her on Twitter so that she can continue to build up her mad social media cred @laurenonizzle.