First of all, contrary to the predictions of our comments section, the internet culture convention meeting today in Portland's Wieden + Kennedy building is NOT attended solely by "basement dwellers." The sold-out ROFLCON Summit is instead a series of panels and Q&As populated by a surprisingly attractive (hey-o!) crowd of design nerds, computer geeks, media makers, and influential internet developers. There's only one person dressed like they're in the Matrix.
Representatives from groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Buzzfeed, and I Can Has Cheezeburger are here to discuss important, very serious, pressing topics of our age. So, not LOLCats as much as: What kind of political institutions is the internet creating? How does the internet influence mainstream culture? If a unit of Marines from 2011 could go back in time, could they beat Ceasar's army?
Anthropologist Biella Coleman lives and breathes these complicated questions—she's currently studying the hacker group Anonymous. She has had to adjust to the non-traditional work of internet anthropology: One anon greeted her as I walked down the street to a meetup in Dublin with a boombox playing her favorite song, while another posted a decapitated photo of her online. "In a reversal of anthropological tradition, they knew more about me than I knew about them." Coleman describes Anonymous as a loosely affiliated group that seeks to promote unpredictability and subvert mainstream thought—kind of like Nietzsche, who Coleman described as "the Enlightenment's troll." While you can love or hate Anonymous's actions, it's worthwhile to note that internet users have gone from making funny cat pictures to crashing institutions like VISA in real life.
Don't write off internet users as out of touch nerds, added Reddit founder Erik Martin: "Internet culture is compelling because users are active participants in culture, not passive consumers." In a few years, young people who create and live partly within online culture will likely be the ones in positions of power in traditional institutions, calling the shots IRL. Can you imagine an Internet political party? Right now, I find it hard to imagine one that's not 75 percent a joke, but internet cultures contribute as currently undefined political and social institutions to political movements (see: #occupywallstreet).
Other debates revolved around the Internet as media tool for citizens not traditionally considered "journalists"—like in the Arab Spring revolutions, where Egypt shut down the internet to keep people from posting news on social media sites. Committee to Protect Journalists Internet Advocacy Coordinator Danny O'Brien said groups that form online to spread information are often maligned by governments as being Internet fringe folk. "You can't attack a journalist for being a journalist," said O'Brien. "You can't say, we rounded up all the journalists, they were journalisming. So you have to label them something else."
This scary government logo was on display behind O'Brien's head while he talked. This is the terrifying eagle that defends copyright on the web:
You can livestream the last two sessions of the event here until 6PM. Or, for more (more MORE!) on ROFLCon Summit, check out arts writer Matt Stangle's great interviews with the founder of Reddit and Encyclopedia Dramatica.
This post made possible by Andy Mesa's computer charger.