I overdid the first half of this summer. In the past two months, I’ve traveled to Seattle, Venezuela, Aruba, Frostburg MD, and Aspen, as well as finished my first year of graduate school. Fortunately, that time is almost over–only one trip left for quite a while.
My trips to Frostburg and Aspen were both for “conferences.” The whole conference system is such a fascinating part of academia. In my experience/reading/conversations, they can be almost equal parts professional/social/vacational (I just made that word up, don’t worry). I’ve spoken to people who hate going to conferences, and see them largely as a necessary evil + time drain. In Aspen, several of us compared it to summer camp. The popular writers’ conference Bread Loaf apparently has the nickname “Bed Loaf,” after what goes on in the evenings.
Frostburg was a purely academic conference. I discussed it in my last entry – the conference was the 2013 Computers and Writing gathering. I presented on a panel about crowdfunding, and spent my time outside of that presentation listening to other people’s panels, eating the provided lunches in a gymnasium, checking out Frostburg’s local scenery, and attending a karaoke night targeted directly at the conference-goers. Two notes on that last one – 1) It had the highest average skill level of any karaoke night I’ve sat through and 2) Apparently we left right before a fist-fight between two conference attendees. Yes, I was very disappointed.
There’s so much going on with conferences that I have a hard time wrapping my head around all the little facets. Conference presentations often end up as a line on a student/professor’s resume/CV, even though for most entry-level academics hardly anyone shows up to your presentation and thus there is no metric whatsoever of quality. If you bomb, or even completely skip out on your presentation, there is nothing stopping you (outside of some rare circumstances) from listing it anyway. The only thing that gets reviewed (for my field, anyway) is an abstract proposal you submit months before you present or, in most cases, even begin creating your paper/talk.
Then there’s the economic/professional incentives of the conference organizers themselves. There’s a sense of competition between the hosts of various years when they’re at universities. The larger ones that are hosted at hotels and conference centers instead of universities receive bids from the hosting locations way in advance to convince them to head that way. The 4C‘s (composition’s largest conference), for example, will be in Indianapolis next year, and that’s not chosen at random.
Creative writing conferences have their overlaps with academic conferences, but there are a lot of differences as well. Since they’re not as much for professional development, and most people attending are not academics, there’s a greater sense of the participants wanting to be there. As I mentioned, several people compared the class to attending summer camps as a kid, in the sense that it’s a brief isolation from your normal life in a space that’s fast-paced, emotionally intense, and slightly uncomfortable. This analogy holds extra true for my two trips to Aspen: I stayed in a shared hostel room complete with bunk beds both years.
Both types of conferences are known for their social scene. I have yet to attend something like this that didn’t include an extensive discussion of where the evenings’ drinking would take place, or of hearing whispers of who was hooking up with whom. Networking of the more professional kind happens at both as well, and a little charisma goes a long, long way in the room.
I’m curious to hear from others on the topic. When it comes to academic conferences, I have yet to find someone who is more than lukewarm on them–the best thing I’ve heard on the subject is how excited they are to see their friends/ex-colleagues.
I’m also planning on tackling the actual content of the creative writing conference classes I’ve taken in the near future.
Outside content: Really, really excited that my article’s abstract is up. Hoping a hard copy is in the mail soon. A second link since I don’t want to overload the self-promotion (ha-ha, a BLOG trying to limit self-promotion) – an interview between Charlie Rose and David Lipsky, the latter of which was my fantastic instructor in Aspen.
I’m writing this from a coffee shop in downtown Round Rock. Four feet away from me, taped on the wall next to the front door, is a piece of paper asking people to help send a bowling team to a national competition. Instead of a labeled jar for cash donations below it, there’s a link to one of the many crowdfunding websites at the bottom of the paper.
Kickstarter and its multiplying competitors are omnipresent in today’s culture. And, as soon as the concept became popular, so too did the debates surrounding it.
Connection to this blog’s topic: A colleague and I are presenting this weekend at the Computers and Writing 2013 conference (Note to self: Never again with the proposals for papers that haven’t been written). Our topic is “Prosumer Backers and Self-marketing Projects: The Rhetoric of Crowdfunding.” Basically, I think crowdfunding is going to see an explosion of research and scholarly analysis in the next few years. Our panel aims to set the stage for that, specific to the rhetoric and composition fields. A smattering of relevant questions (which might be relevant for their answers, or for an analysis of the debate around them): Does financial support constitute participation/production of content? What constitutes a project that’s seen as “appropriate” for crowdfunding by the online community (looking at both the purpose/product and the people behind it)? How does a project’s “marketing” differ when it’s being crowdfunded versus privately funded? What are the expectations of someone who participates in this process?
Relevant news items:
Penny Arcade crowdfunds the removal of advertisement and the expected backlash.
Zach Braff crowdfunds a new movie project, Ken Levine’s criticism of it, and a response to that line of criticism from a techdirt blog.
Veronica Mars movie crowdfunded.
Kickstarter’s word on the above two.
Relevant academic reading:
Pretty much anything by Henry Jenkins (his site, Wikipedia), but specifically his work on Participatory Culture (this book – full text PDF courtesy MacArthur Foundation) and Convergence Culture (this book).
“Owning Up: Exploring the Kickstarter Restaurant” – Kaitlyn Goalen, Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 11(4) – Currently the only academic publication focused on crowdfunding I could find. Sorry for the JSTOR paywall.
Personally, I find the whole scene very interesting, which is why I ended up on a panel about it. I’ve only crowdfunded two projects: an album by a friend’s band, and a card game based on the book Moby Dick. Despite my lack of participation, I see huge value in the process, no matter who is using it. There are so many ventures out there that just don’t work in the current system. I am going to be using the example of My So-Called Life in my presentation, and I think it fits well. The show was basically cancelled despite having a big audience and good reviews because advertisers didn’t want to touch it. The current system failed that content and its consumers. Crowdfunding gives a way for it to happen. Obviously, it requires consumers (or producing consumers, prosumers, if you swing that way) to do more investigation in order to ensure they’re making a sound investment, but the trade-off is that they’re cutting a middle-person out of the process. That middle-person could be a stifling gatekeeper keeping projects from seeing the light of day, or it could be an entity soaking up part of the revenue that the producers of content want to cut out. Does it matter which it is?
I don’t know the answer. It reminds me of the constant debate in /r/cinemagraphs over what exactly a cinemagraph is. I have a hard time finding the motivation for being so heavily invested in the debate. Is there some sort of intrinsic need to try to protect other people from a perceived “incorrect” consumption? I think the more intriguing debate is over how quickly producers are forking over 8-10% of their project to Kickstarter and Amazon for the privilege of using their site, as well as some of the legal/tax obligations of the whole process. But I suppose that’s a little less emotional.