April 23, 2008
Countdown to ROFLcon: An Interview with its Organizers (4 of 4)

This is the final part of my interview with the organizers of ROFLCon.

I have spoken before with Kevin Driscoll, one of the organizers, about how it is a very specialized niche group that is being heavily represented. Can you speak a little to that? Do you see Roflcon as addressing a set of groups?

Christina Xu: This has been one of the most problematic things to me about planning the conference. At some point in the conference, I looked back and sort of realized that we were representing SUCH a niche-y group: almost all white, almost all male, almost all fitting in the "geek" subculture. This is weird for me because I'm not even white or male, but in the context of "internet culture" it didn't even occur to me that this demographic may not be representative for such a long time. But I guess it's not that weird, because this was the culture I sort of grew up on--it's the one I know the most about and identify the most with. So I think we did a really good job of covering all corners of that internet, but that's definitely not the internet that everyone is on.

Obviously, no conference can cover all the communities of the internet, but what groups do you see as not being represented and how do you plan to address that?

Christina Xu: Honestly, I'm not sure. We're not really covering the whole YouTube phenomenon to its full extent, but we do have one panel about it. We're not really addressing the incredible richness of amateur hip hop/dance culture, but Kevin is giving one talk about it. We're not at all acknowledging weird little things like email chain-letters and so on that really make up a large part of many people's interactions with the internet, nor the different internet cultures that have sprouted up around the world. I don't know how to address it fully except to hope that examples get brought up within panels--or maybe this can be the focus of ROFLCon 2 if there is one.

Who do you wish was coming to ROFLCon, but isn't (for logistical or whatever reasons)?

Christina Xu: SOULJA BOY! And Bus Uncle! They would've been absolutely amazing to have just in respect to the diversity question, and I think they would've had a lot of interesting things to say.

Also, my internet friends from way back in the day. <3 RI!

What would you have differently, if you were to do it over?

Rachel Popkin: Personally, I would have joined up earlier. I was resistant for a long time because I thought it was going to be this Herculean effort and I was going to get stuck with a ton of work. In reality, it's been a Herculean effort all-around, but they haven't made me do too much besides wield the credit card and spend buttloads of money.

Natalie Bau: Very little. I think that ROFLCon had to come together organically the way it did. I could say that I wish we had had more structure earlier on, but it wouldn't have done any good because we didn't have the resources to realize that structure. I think the conference is over all the best for growing the way it did because we could be flexible and embrace new ideas. Personally, I just wish I could have helped more. As always, the full force of the ROFLCon burden fell on a few key people and I wish I could have been more available at times to help them out.

What do you hope people will take away from ROFLCon?

Rachel Popkin: That there's something pretty major happening in society now. Internet memes are creating new sources of identity (ie, "what part of the internet are you from?"), new social norms... when we talk to other people who are also steeped in the interwebs, the rules for communication can be totally different - even if we cross over to IRL. I hope people get the idea that this is all worth studying. And I also hope the internet takes away that academia has something to contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our interwub communities and cultures.

Natalie Bau: I think Rachel covered this pretty well. I think it would be great for academia itself to recognize the role it can play in asking these questions. Similarly, as I have said before, I think it is a great opportunity for academics to re-examine their assumptions face with critiques by the subjects of study.